In the News: Forecasting the Effects of Obesity and Smoking on U.S. Life Expectancy

In today’s issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, a group of investigators headed by the Harvard University Interfaculty Program for Health Systems Improvement have issued a report entitled, “Forecasting the Effects of Obesity and Smoking on U.S. Life Expectancy.”

The investigators examined data collected by 3 large-scale survey projects: the National Health Interview Survey, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.

Over the past 30 years, there has been a decline in smoking rates in the U.S., leading to improvements in our overall health. Unfortunately, there has also been a steady rise in the rate of obesity in our society. Indeed, more than one half of the U.S. population are likely to meet the World Health Organization (WHO) definition for obesity by the year 2020.

It has previously been estimated that obesity now accounts for between 5% and 15% of deaths each year in the United States and that smoking accounts for 18%. Moreover, if smoking were eliminated, it is estimated that the population life expectancy would increase by as much as 1 to 2 years.

The authors conclude that if current trends in obesity continue, the negative effects from the obesity epidemic will outweigh any positive effects of continued declines in the rate of smoking in this country.

Reference: Stewart ST, et al. Forecasting the effects of obesity and smoking on U.S. life expectancy. N Engl J Med 2009;361:2252-60.

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