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Obesity kills more Americans than we thought
August 15th, 2013
04:01 PM ET

Obesity kills more Americans than we thought

Just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released statistics showing promise in the fight against childhood obesity, another study suggests the American public health system shouldn't be celebrating quite yet.

While new statistics show childhood obesity rates in the United States are dropping, obesity in adults still accounts for 18% of deaths among black or white Americans between ages 40 and 85, according to a study published this week in the American Journal of Public Health. Researchers say that's approximately 1 in 5 black or white Americans who are dying from illnesses related to obesity.

Even though the statistics may not surprise those who work in public health, they are nearly three times higher than previous estimates, according to study authors. "We expect that obesity will be responsible for an increasing share of deaths in the United States, and perhaps even lead to declines in U.S. life expectancy," said Ryan Masters, the lead study author and researcher with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Most policy initiatives are correct in trying to target (people) early in life to try and stave off this (obesity) problem in new generations."

The study used data from 1986 to 2006 and looked at thousands of people who were included in the National Health Interview Survey, noting their mortality rates and their body mass index, or BMI.

Study authors examined the link between obesity and death based on gender and race. They found an estimated 26.8% of deaths among black women were caused by being overweight or obese. White women followed with a 21.7% estimate, while approximately 15.6% of deaths among white men were due to obesity. Black men had the lowest percentage with 5% of deaths due to weight. Other ethnicities were not examined due to small sample sizes.

Participants were considered to be at normal weight if their BMI was between 18.5 and 25; they were considered overweight if their BMI was between 25 and 30, and considered obese if their BMI was over 30. Respondents who were underweight or over the age of 85 were not included in the study because they are already at an increased risk for mortality.

The study was the first to look at differences in ages, sex and race in analyzing Americans’ risk of dying from obesity.

"Past research in this area lumped together all Americans, but obesity prevalence and its effect on mortality differ substantially based on your race or ethnicity, how old you are and when you were born," said Masters. "It's important for policy-makers to understand that different groups experience obesity in different ways. “


soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Walter

    People, ridiculously, love to suggest that with Obamacare we'll have "death panels." Maybe we'll get lucky and they'll be obesity panels, where those grossly overweight will be "encouraged" to lose that extra tonnage they're carrying around.

    August 15, 2013 at 23:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SoundFuture

      We'll also have to completely forget that fat in shape people are just as likely as thin in shape people to suffer from "obesity related illness". Articles like this are all purely practice in assumptions for the sake of frightening people with "science".

      August 19, 2013 at 13:35 | Report abuse |
  2. Paul Gaul

    It should be interesting to make a research of the real causes of obesity and then design a public health plan to fight against it. As far as I know there could be two main causes: the excessive of food consumption (also related to the life style) and a condition that sometimes is hidden, like thyroiditis. For instance, if you input a symptom like "weight – gain" in a symptom checker like ESAGIL then it will give a number of possible conditions that are associated with that symptom. I really hope that researchers will come up with an approach to help many Americans suffering this condition.

    August 16, 2013 at 06:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Harry Minot

    Most of the "research" regarding fatness is ill-formed and rooted in actual bigotry. Here's an alternate view: http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/35/1/55.full
    I do have some relevant personal experience: http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-968195

    August 16, 2013 at 07:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Fred

    If obesity is so bad, why is the life expectancy still increasing? The researchers decided that every time a fat person died, it was because he or she was fat, which is not even close to valid reasoning.

    August 16, 2013 at 08:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Robert

      Life expectancy is now decreasing due to obesity, multiple sources, this is simply one- http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090319224823.htm

      August 16, 2013 at 08:48 | Report abuse |
    • RM1234

      Life may be extending but quality of life is not

      December 4, 2013 at 16:16 | Report abuse |
  5. Justin

    "Most media coverage of the so-called "Obesity Epidemic" is misinformed and harmful. "

    Garbage, obesity will be our generation's smoking... A generation or two from now, society will look back and wonder how so many people allowed themselves to be so incredibly unhealthy. It's a tragedy as it's entirely preventable. Save me the I'm big boned or fat people can be healthier than skinny people. While exceptions to the rule certainly exist, they are just that – exceptions.

    August 16, 2013 at 09:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Diana

      I'm willing to go out on a limb her and say that the majority of comments that indicate the problem is over stated – were written my overweight or obese people. It's called denial...if I don't believe it, it can't kill me...famous last words.

      August 16, 2013 at 10:46 | Report abuse |
    • JohnC

      agree. One can be overweight (but not obese) and still be healthier than many if athletic or genetically lucky. But such folks are a minority and that same person with more normal weight is still better off. But once obese then it's all bad. The best you can say for some few that are obese and yet exercise is they aren't as bad off as obese and no exercise. I've been athletic all my life with my weight varying between high normal and a little overweight - I've always felt better when at the lower weight.

      August 19, 2013 at 10:46 | Report abuse |
  6. Pete

    Was BMI the only factor in determining obesity for this study?

    August 16, 2013 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SDPEG

      Always, with the BMI. Despite the fact that that it doesn't account for lean mass. But, if you are a bodybuilder, then you know to ignore it, as it doesn't not pertain to you.
      treadmill desk

      November 12, 2013 at 10:34 | Report abuse |
  7. Kevin

    Oh no, what am I to do?! I hope the government will let me know what I can and cannot eat as I have no other way to access information or control what I do. I'm sorry if I have to drag others who can exercise self control down with me (not a black hole/fat joke) but it's for the good of the nation. After all, should enough of us convene on one coast, the inland flooding from the sea could be catastrophic. As much as I would like to see everything from the coast to the mountains covered in salt, I can't swim.

    August 16, 2013 at 10:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Cristy

    Actually, obesity isn't what is killing people – our high sugar/high carb diet is. Being fat is a symptom of what is killing us, not the cause. Be fat and eat protein/healthy fats and you can be perfectly healthy. Be skinny and eat a high sugar diet (like most other Americans) and you can be quite unhealthy and die as a result.

    August 16, 2013 at 10:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cristy

      I also wanted to add – inflammation is a huge factor here. I love how there are studies that are constantly coming to the conclusion that things are caused by inflammation (alzheimer's, diabetes, asthma, cancer, the list goes on and on) and yet somehow they manage to analyze the data and not directly state that conclusion. Sugar and carbs cause chronic inflammation in your body. Chronic inflammation will make you fat, cause diabetes, cancer, heart disease, all inflammatory diseases (crohn's, alzheimer's, IBS, fibromyalgia, so many others). Eating a high sugar/high carb diet while trying to conceive and while pregnant affects the fetus and makes it so that your children are susceptible to ALL of these things. America is eating itself to death and it begins before we're even born.

      August 16, 2013 at 10:31 | Report abuse |
    • JohnC

      but eat well AND be normal weight and you are best of all options especially if also exercising.

      August 19, 2013 at 10:47 | Report abuse |
  9. Tim

    Eat your effin vegetables and stop eating so much fast food and processed food and meat America.

    August 16, 2013 at 10:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Dug

    It seems death by fat was not as great a problem when being obese was not socially acceptable and accommodated. We have evolved a crazy society where it is politically shameful to be critical of those commiting suicide by eating themselves to death. Better we be critical of those having guns lest that be a method of suicide! Evidently some ways of killing onself are more socially acceptable than others. Oh well, this thinking has the benefit of insuring the rate of early death from obesity remains high and as a result it will save Medicare from going bust.

    August 16, 2013 at 11:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • C.

      Why do we need to 'shame' people for being fat? The reason we don't do this is because it has been proven NOT to work! Shame causes people to disconnect from society, which leads to more overeating and less exercise. As a personal trainer, I hear people making fun of obese people exercising, which is totally insane and cruel. If anything, we need to help people accept their bodies and begin to love themselves. Increases in self-esteem bring on decreases in weight. Shame does nothing.

      August 19, 2013 at 12:48 | Report abuse |
  11. kiliclika

    "They found an estimated 26.8% of deaths among black women were caused by being overweight or obese. "

    Please show me a death certificate stating cause of death was by being overweight or obese. No, not "related to" or "associated with"....just "the person was fat and that caused the death".

    August 16, 2013 at 13:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mikeydaman

      Uh, sounds like someone is in denial. Honestly I'm surprised it's only 26.8%.

      August 17, 2013 at 19:12 | Report abuse |
  12. EdL

    Obesity kills more Americans than we thought. We? Obviously this must be so, so how many did we think?

    August 17, 2013 at 16:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. romanlaugh

    Be interesting to correlate the obesity epidemic with the economy. A slow economy with high unemployment should give people less money to spend on food so less obesity, right? Obviously, it seems to be the opposite over the last ten years or so. Could one make a case then that the better the economy the less percent of the population becomes obese?

    August 18, 2013 at 17:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JohnC

      having money means a few good things for health. One is you get out more which can lead to exercise and not being bored with food nearby to nibble. Also some very poor neighborhoods have few stores selling fresh veggies but plenty of fast food places. You don't need money to be very healthy but it doesn't hurt. junk food can be bought in bulk pretty cheap.

      August 19, 2013 at 10:59 | Report abuse |
  14. Student in Training

    A high sugar diet is bad. A protein diet is bad. A high fat diet is bad. Bad depends on the extreme in which we consume them. Example. The path to death has many roads. Sticking with obesity...The problem is the long term consequences. People just don't drop over night. Obesity correlates with high cholesterol (NEARLY ALL THE TIME) and the fatty particles (I use it loosely to term all fat in the body consumed or produced by the body) will be floating around in the blood vessel and deposits in your blood vessels becoming plaque that thickens over time. The blood vessels become more rigid (and thinner in diameter) requiring your heart to work harder to push the flow of blood to your body parts. From here 2 things can go wrong. One day your heart could become weaker and just give up because its not getting enough oxygen itself (heart failure). OR!!! those fatty plaques in your blood vessels "pops" making a blood clot actually blocks blood flow to your heart (heart attack) or block flow to brain (STROKE). Why is obesity bad? cause it links itself in the process of destruction to many long term diseases that doctors would recommend to just eat right and exercise (blood pressure/ obesity/ diabetes).

    August 19, 2013 at 17:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Student in Training

    I just wanted to add its an easy solution to 1st world problems. Generally Cheaper and safer then resorting to drugs unnecessarily.

    August 19, 2013 at 17:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lojack

      "it's" and "than". Keep training!

      April 7, 2014 at 12:22 | Report abuse |
  16. JamesS

    Sadly, with few exceptions obesity is a decision. I was obese because I chose to be. Not that I sat down one day and said, “I think I will be obese”, but rather because every day I consciously chose what and how much I would eat. There are some who have medical conditions that contribute and maybe even cause obesity. But what I know is; I was obese and wound up with T2 diabetes and 5 other accompanying chronic illnesses. If you don’t think that obesity will kill you I could show you my medical records from 5 years ago and how close I came to dying, verses what they are today after losing 140 pounds and keeping it off for years. I agree with the research, because I have lived it. I discuss these issues more at
    http://www.springerweightmanagement.com

    August 19, 2013 at 17:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. FGHJFGJH

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    August 19, 2013 at 19:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. FGHJFGJH

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    August 19, 2013 at 19:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Vic of New York

    How to eat as much as you want and lose weight (works for 99.9% of humankind): CUT THE FAT TO LOSE THE FAT !!
    Recent studies indicate the modern American diet consists of 2673 calories (way too much if you're not an Olympic athelete) of which 1136 calories are pure fat and sugar. Yes, getting the FAT our of your diet is like breaking a cigarette habit – but it can be done. Once the fat and sugars come out, you'd have to stuff your face all day long with healthy food just to keep from loosing weight! The article below is a good eye opener....

    http://www.nytimes.com/1990/05/08/science/huge-study-of-diet-indicts-fat-and-meat.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

    August 20, 2013 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
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    August 25, 2013 at 04:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Mike

    It is surprising to see this:

    They found an estimated 26.8% of deaths among black women were caused by being overweight or obese. White women followed with a 21.7% estimate, while approximately 15.6% of deaths among white men were due to obesity. Black men had the lowest percentage with 5% of deaths due to weight

    Since males more often from 66 of the top 72 causes of death I am surprised more males do not die from this as males are by far the weaker sex. If anything is deadly, it will more likely kill a male rather then a woman since women are built for the long haul while males just can not take it like women can.

    August 30, 2013 at 04:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Brett Johnson

    Totally preventable! Let's get out there and move.

    September 5, 2013 at 23:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. poopmeister

    I think it's more about activity and less about obesity. There are enough physically active obese people out there that have associated conditions making it harder for them to loose the weight. I tend to exercise 4-5 times a week and fortunately I am skinny, but I know people that bust there butt just as much as me and can't seem to loose it as quick. I find that it is more about our countries mentality; we breed lazy people that eat junk food. I believe that exercise is the #1 thing that should be on everyone's mind, but it simply is not the case. If you are actively exercising, you stand a better chance not to be a burden on loved ones as you get older. Also, if we made healthy food cheaper and more accessible, that would make a huge difference. We as Americans need to swallow our pride and see what they do in European countries, since they have a significantly lower obese rate.

    November 22, 2013 at 18:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. mark saniez

    In France we do like very much our french cousins,we helped them and they helped us in difficult times in history,and do not count on me for critizing the us citizens,.the only thing though is that I have remarked is that the population of the US is getting incredibly "very fat" ?!,some say that's it's due to "less exercise" ,but for me that is not the only "factor"!,If I would permit myself a suggestion,is that all theese fast foods are "damaging" peoples health.Generaly here in France you have still a lot of people who do gardening and grow their own vegtables and have fruit trees,because France in general is still a big rural country + the French in general like and take time preparing dishes, ( I know to make good food you need time to prepare it !) We are not all that old we are in our 50's and we still take pleasure in growing our own vegtables,and we have a lot of fruit trees too,and especialy " the cost of living goes up every month",so we reason like our parents and grand parents did, If you do everything yourself,"you eat better-your health is better,and you save money too!.Another thing like a lot of other people I know,we are very handy in the house too,everybody can "paint-lay wallpaper-do massonry- repair things going wrong with the car,or pluming,electricity reparation too etc....The thing too is that everybody is " glued" on his computer",and that's a bad thing too ( for me ),because a computer ,will not lay wall paper,it won't dig a garden,it will not do house repairs etc....Don't you think that we all should be less dependant on " the system" wich in fact is a very " bad system",,think a bit ,"millions die of hunger in the world" and millions die of too much eating and drinking!,,that's the result of people being led into ( by other evil forces),like sheep,surely that's not the way our grand creator wanted us to arrive in such a bad state,?!

    January 18, 2014 at 14:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. momof1

    I think it is fairly obvious. I gained a TON of weight during pregnancy and didn't take it off right away. I developed high blood pressure, edema and painful joints. I finally ended up with a thyroid issue. The thyroid issue didn't cause my weight gain, my weight gain caused the thyroid issue. People need to get out of denial. As I lost weight, the problems all corrected themselves and now I am in great health. I would never shame someone about their weight. Being fat is an awful feeling. I just won't sugar coat it either. You can live in denial America, I won't say a word to you because it's your funeral. You're only depriving yourselves and your loved ones of your presence years, even decades, earlier than you should. But it's your choice.

    April 7, 2014 at 09:13 | Report abuse | Reply

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