Smoking, Obesity’s Toll on Life Span
High Blood Pressure, High Blood Sugar Levels Also Contribute to Lower Life Expectancy
March 23, 2010 -- Smoking, high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, and
obesity -- four preventable risk factors -- are robbing years from the lives of
The new findings -- almost five years from men, and just over four years
from women -- suggest that disparities in these risk factors help
explain why some ethnic and socioeconomic groups have lower life
“Our results demonstrate that a small number of risk factors for chronic
disease account for a noticeable part of the disparities in life expectancy in
the U.S., with the largest contributions from smoking and high blood pressure,”
say the researchers, led by Majid Ezzati, PhD, an associate professor of
International Health at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. The
findings appear in the journal PLoS Medicine.
The 8 Americas
Researchers from Harvard and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation
at the University of Washington in Seattle classified individuals from several
2005 national data sources into eight subgroups based on their race, geographic
locale, and socioeconomic characteristics. The “Eight Americas” consisted
2. Low-income whites in the Northern Plains and
3. Middle America
4. Low-income whites from Appalachia and the
5. Western Native Americans
6. African-American middle America
7. Southern low-income rural African-Americans
8. High-risk urban African-Americans
In general,your location and your ethnicity affect your life expectancy and
how healthy and fit you are. These findings held among all age groups -- the
young, the middle-aged, and older adults.
Asians Healthiest, Live Longest
Overall, Asians were leaner, least likely to smoke, and had the lowest blood
sugar levels. Asians also had the highest life expectancies.
In 2005, men lived to 75.1, on average, and women lived to 80.3. Asians had
an average life expectancy of 82.3 for men and 86.8 for women. The study
authors point out that this is one and two years longer than the highest life
expectancies seen across the globe.
African-Americans from the rural South had the highest blood pressure levels
in the new study. They also tended to be more overweight and have higher blood
sugar levels. Rural African-American males had life expectances that were seven
years lower than the national average, and their female counterparts' life
expectancies were reduced by 5.4 years.
Controlling risk factors, however, can improve life expectancy
significantly, the study authors point out. For example, if a man got his blood
pressure under control, he would add 1.5 years to his life, while a woman could
add 1.6 years to hers. Quitting smoking would add 2.5 years to a man’s life and
1.8 years to a woman’s life, the study showed.