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Obesity: Tougher on Women's Health?

Extra Pounds May Damage Women's Health and Quality of Life More Than Men's
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 27, 2006 -- Women may pay a higher health price for obesityobesity than men.

Compared to men, "women suffer a disproportionate burden of disease attributable to overweight and obesity," write Peter Muennig, MD, MPH, and colleagues in a new study.

Muennig works in New York at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. His study appears in September's American Journal of Public Health.

The study used information from two sources:

  • U.S. death data from 1990-1995.
  • A 2000 survey on health and quality of life for more than 13,600 U.S. adults.

The health survey included participants' height and weight. Muennig's team used those numbers to calculate BMI (body mass index), which relates height to weight.

A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is overweight; a BMI of 30 or more is obese.

Gender Gap

Being overweight or obese has been tied to a greater risk of health problems, including heart diseaseheart disease, high blood pressurehigh blood pressure, type 2 diabetesdiabetes, and some cancers.

Muennig's team crunched the death, health, and quality-of-life numbers. Their key finding: Extra weight seemed to be a bigger burden in terms of health and quality of life for women than for men.

Health-related drops in quality of life were:

  • Nearly four times steeper for overweight women than for overweight men.
  • A bit more than twice as great for obese women as for obese men.

But neither sex escaped the effects of excess weight.

The study also came up with estimates for the number of additional deaths per year among those carrying extra weight:

  • 57,000 more deaths among overweight and obese men than among normal-weight men
  • 107,000 more deaths among overweight and obese women than normal-weight women.

Study's Limits

The study has several limits, the researchers note.

First, they don't know if obesity was solely responsible for the results.

It's hard to prove cause-and-effect in big statistical studies like this one. Sometimes it's difficult to know which came first -- the health problems or the excess weight.

Also, participants reported their own height and weight. Self-reports aren't always accurate.

Lastly, the researchers excluded people without complete height and weight data. Those people may or may not have been exceptions to the findings -- there's no way to know for sure.

The study doesn't suggest all overweight women are headed for health problems. Not everyone who's overweight is unhealthy. And being lean doesn't guarantee good health.

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