The fact that obesity is a chronic, systemic disease and a pandemic that claims lives across the world is well known. The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes obesity as "abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health", and estimates that in 2016, 650 million adults aged 18 years and older were obese. The WHO also indicates that most of the world's population lives in countries where obesity kills more people than malnourishment and being underweight do.
Obesity and mortality, the indirect link
The link between obesity and mortality rates isn't a direct one though, which is why having a high body mass index (BMI) and being obese right now may not seem as alarming to you. A study, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology in 2018, shows that high adiposity and obesity are risk factors for all-cause mortality, meaning that instead of being linked to one cause of early death, obesity is linked to many.
Obesity can cause many chronic diseases, like cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and several types of cancer -- all of which in turn increases the likelihood of death. So, the inverse is also likely to be true: Reduce the risk of obesity and you will have reduced the higher risk of mortality. A new study published in JAMA Open Network on 14 August 2020 establishes this inverse correlation between obesity and mortality and even indicates which age group is best placed to gain benefits from maintaining a better BMI.
Benefits of weight loss in early adulthood
The study, conducted by researchers based out of Boston University's School of Public Health, used data from 24,205 participants from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2014. This data was then analysed between February 2019 and April 2020. The weight change history of all participants was taken and assessed between the ages of 25 years and 10 years before the midlife baseline, that is 44 years.
The researchers found that an estimated 3.2 percent of the deaths could have been avoided if the participants had been able to change their BMI status from obese to overweight before hitting the midlife baseline. Overall, an estimate of 12.4 percent of early deaths may be caused by having "weight in excess of the normal BMI range at any point between early and mid-adulthood." On the other hand - and definitely on the bright side - going from being obese to overweight according to BMI levels between early adulthood and midlife (ages of 25 to 44 years) was analysed to be associated with 54 percent reduction in the risk of mortality. Weight loss after midlife did not seem to have the same effect on mortality risks as per this research.
This study clearly indicates that preventing weight gain and managing methods of weight loss between early adulthood and midlife can not only help you stay fit but can also reduce the risk of early death by more than half. Those are pretty good odds, so if you are overweight or obese and are aged below 44 years (or even 40 years), this could be even more incentive to lose weight, maintain a healthy BMI and live a long and healthy life.
For more information, read our article on How to lose weight fast and safely.
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