Obesity-related mortality higher than thought, but obesity rates are leveling off

ConciliumDespite some good news about declining obesity rates in children, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, 18 percent of deaths among black or white Americans are obesity related. That translates to about one in five adults, a number three times higher than originally reported.

Study authors looked at data from the National Health Interview Survey between 1986 and 2006, specifically recording mortality rates and body mass index. They found that about 27 percent of deaths in black women were related to being overweight or obese. Those numbers were about 22 percent in white women, 16 percent in white men and 5 percent in black men. Sample sizes were not adequate to compute those rates for other ethnicities.

According to Ryan Masters, lead study author and researcher with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 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. He adds, It s important for policy-makers to understand that different groups experience obesity in different ways.

But there may be a silver lining to these numbers. According to a report released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America s Health entitled, F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America s Future 2013, rates of obesity remained steady in 49 states over the last year, hopefully marking the end of a three-decade period of increases. The study authors used information from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a telephone survey of over 400,000 adults. Other findings included that obesity rates vary by region, age, income and education level.

However, obesity rates still remain high, with 13 states reporting rates over 30 percent and 41 states reporting rates over 25 percent. According to Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president of the RWJF, and Dr. Jeffrey Levi, executive director of TFAH, If we fail to reverse our nation s obesity epidemic, the current generation of young people may be the first in American history to live sicker and die younger than their parents generation.

ACSH s Ariel Savransky adds, Although it seems like good news that obesity rates are leveling off across the United States, obesity is still clearly a huge public health issue. Hopefully the trends illuminated by this new report will help to target obesity interventions to the different populations which may be most affected by this epidemic. I should add that predictions of diminished life expectancy for the next generation have been wielded as scare tactics by numerous experts with specific agendas. It now appears that such dire prognostications are unlikely to come to pass.