Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

50+: Live Better, Longer

Font Size

Obesity Rise Trumps Smoking Decline

Study: Life Expectancy Rise in U.S. to Slow
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 2, 2009 -- Over the next decade the health benefits achieved because fewer Americans are smoking will be more than overshadowed by the negative health effects of the unchecked rise in obesity, new research suggests.

As a population, Americans are smoking less but weigh more than they have in many years.

According to the CDC, about 34% of U.S. adults, or 72 million people, are obese today, compared to about 15% in 1980.

But half as many adults smoke. About 1 in 5 American adults smoke today, compared to 2 in 5 in the 1970s.

Although these competing trends have been obvious, the net impact on health has been less so.

In an effort to forecast the effect of the rise in obesity and decline in smoking on health at the population level over the next decade, researchers from Harvard University and the University of Michigan examined data from national health surveys conducted from the early 1970s through 2006.

Their study appears in the Dec. 3 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

In every scenario tested, the researchers found that the negative health impact of not addressing the obesity epidemic outweighed the benefits derived from the decline in smoking.

No Smoking, Obesity = 4 Extra Years

If all adults in the United States stopped smoking and achieved a normal weight by 2020, the life expectancy of an 18-year-old would increase by nearly four years, according to the forecast.

“The hypothetical scenario in which everyone is a nonsmoker of normal weight by 2020, though, perhaps not achievable, illustrates the dramatic toll these behavioral risk factors can take when combined,” lead researcher Susan T. Stewart, PhD, and colleagues wrote.

If past trends continue, nearly half of adults in the U.S. will meet the World Health Organization criteria for obesity by 2020, the forecast projects.

Better management of chronic conditions closely linked to obesity, including heart disease and diabetes, would also change the forecast, the researchers noted.

They conclude that efforts to improve health in the United States at the population level must focus on reducing obesity, further reducing smoking rates, and improving the management of diseases caused by both.

“Inadequate progress in these areas could result in an erosion of the pattern of steady gains in health observed in the United States since the early 20th century,” they wrote.

Today on WebMD

blueberries
Eating for a longer, healthier life.
romantic couple
Dr. Ruth’s bedroom tips for long-term couples.
 
womans finger tied with string
Learn how we remember, and why we forget.
man reviewing building plans
Do you know how to stay healthy as you age?
 
fast healthy snack ideas
Article
how healthy is your mouth
Tool
 
dog on couch
Tool
doctor holding syringe
Slideshow
 
champagne toast
Slideshow
Two women wearing white leotards back to back
Quiz
 
Man feeding woman
Slideshow
two senior women laughing
Article