Obesity has been called the “new smoking” in terms of its cost to the NHS – but being moderately overweight can also cut life expectancy, scientists have said.
Previous research has suggested having a body mass index (BMI) higher than the range considered a healthy weight, but not above the point at which people are said to be obese, could in fact help people live longer.
A study of more than 100,000 adults by Danish researchers found people with the longest lifespan had a BMI in the ‘overweight’ category, not ‘healthy’ as might be expected.
However, new research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine casts doubt on these findings, with being overweight associated with an increased mortality rate.
Andrew Stokes, assistant professor of global health at Boston University, who led the study, said people with a history of being overweight had a six per cent increased risk of death.
He called this rise “modest” but told NPR the findings were still “extremely worrisome” because of the high number of overweight people in the US.
Dr Stokes told the broadcaster the study confirmed “there is no benefit of being overweight on risk of death, and indicate that [being] overweight is actually associated with an increased risk of dying.”
Around 63 per cent of UK adults are overweight or obese, according to Public Health England.
While the percentage of adults who are overweight has not significantly changed between 1993 and 2015, remaining at around 36 to 39 per cent, obesity rates shot up from 14 per cent to 27 per cent in the same period.
The Danish study looked at weights at one point in time, which could have meant people who were once overweight but had lost weight due to fatal illnesses were counted in the ‘healthy weight’ category, said Dr Stokes, according to USA Today.
Dr Stokes and his team attempted to compensate for this by focusing on the maximum BMI in a 16-year period of 225,000 adults aged over 50.
Obesity is been linked to increased mortality rates from diseases including heart disease, cancer and lung disease.
At a 2014 health conference, NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens said: “Obesity is the new smoking, and it represents a slow-motion car crash in terms of avoidable illness and rising health care costs.
“If as a nation we keep piling on the pounds around the waistline, we'll be piling on the pounds in terms of future taxes needed just to keep the NHS afloat."
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