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Health & Families

Obesity weighs heavily on health, lifespan in US

Americans' expanding girths are driving down the number of years they live in good health, a study published Tuesday said.

As the percentage of obese adults in the United States shot up by 90 percent in 16 years, from 14 percent in 1993 to 27 percent two years ago, the number of quality-adjusted life years lost because of obesity more than doubled, said the study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

From 1993-2008, obesity meant more men and women from every ethnic group were dying younger or suffering ill health, the study said.

Black women were both the most likely group to be obese and lost the greatest number of quality years of life because of obesity.

They lost 68 percent more quality years of life due to obesity, and the percentage who were obese rose by around 16 percentage points, from around 25 percent in 1993 to around 41 percent of black women in 2008.

Black men were in second place on both counts, but a long way behind the women. Next came both genders of Hispanics and then whites.

Less obese states caught up with more obese states in terms of quality years of life lost during the 16-year study, which found a strong correlation between modifiable lifestyle choices, such as a lack of physical activity, and the rising burden of obesity.

"Poor diet and physical inactivity may soon be the leading causes of death in the US," study authors Haomiao Jia of Columbia University and Erica Lubetkin of the department of community health and social medicine at City College of New York warned.

The researchers used data from the massive Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), which sampled 3.59 million people between 1993 and 2008, to calculate the health burden of obesity.

Premature deaths from obesity were estimated based on data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Health Statistics.

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index - calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height squared in meters - greater than 30.

In health terms, it means a person is at greater risk for a whole host of maladies, ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes, heart disease and stroke.