Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Study: Weight contributes to illness

Overweight Americans are sicker late in life than normal-weight people and die prematurely, a new study shows.

Researchers at Columbia University in New York found that overweight and obese women spend an average of three more years in ill health than normal-weight women. Heavy men, on average, are sicker one more year than their thinner counterparts.

Heavy people are more likely to suffer from pain, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses that may affect their ability to perform daily tasks such as bathing and getting dressed, the research shows.

The researchers looked at the medical expenditure records of 13,600 people from 2000 and the death certificates of 84,000 people from the 1990s.

The findings in September's American Journal of Public Health showed that even overweight women under 45 have many more medical issues, such as depression, than do normal-weight women.

Heavy women "are bombarded with negative messages by friends, relatives and advertisements, which might be causing them to become stressed, depressed and sick," says lead study author Peter Muennig, assistant professor of health policy at Columbia.

If obesity trends in this country continue, life expectancy might eventually fall because of the high rates of obesity among children, Muennig says.

About 136 million U.S. adults are overweight or obese, according to government data. Health experts consider a person obese if he or she is 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight; overweight is 1 to 29 pounds over that standard. About a third of children and teens, or 25 million kids, are overweight or at risk of becoming so.

Obesity can make people feel years older than their age, says Roland Sturm, a senior economist with the RAND Corp. who has done several studies on obesity's impact on quality of life.
"An obese 30-year-old has as many chronic conditions as a normal-weight 50-year-old and reports quality of life that is worse than a 50-year-old," he says.

Eric Finkelstein, a health economist with non-profit research firm RTI International, says heavy people may resist efforts to slim down.

"Clearly, obesity causes health problems. However, losing weight and maintaining it has its own costs because you have to diet and exercise. And the reality is that many people may not want to pay that price."

Adds Sturm: "Maybe we should start by trying to create an environment that prevents obesity in the first place, especially for children."
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