Being overweight may pose an even greater risk to your health than smoking, heavy drinking or being poor, according to new research that compares obesity to other well-known health risks.
The study estimates that nearly one in five people in the US is clinically obese and more than a third are overweight–making the number of Americans who fall into either category combined greater than the number of smokers, problem drinkers or those living below the poverty line.
“The overall health effect of obesity is much worse because the prevalence is much higher than other health problems, and the effects for people in that category are also stronger,” says study author Roland Sturm, an economist at RAND, a non-profit research institution in Santa Monica. “It really points to this being an overwhelming public health problem, and I don’t think it has had quite this profile yet.”
For the study, researchers surveyed a nationwide sample of 9,585 adults and questioned them about their height, weight, income, smoking and drinking habits and health status. They used the body mass index or BMI, a ratio of height to weight to define overweight and obesity. A BMI of 18-25 was considered normal, more than 25 was overweight and more than 30 was clinically obese.
Researchers found obesity was more closely associated with 17 major chronic conditions and 12 common quality-of-life issues than smoking, problem drinking or poverty–factors that have been widely acknowledged as health risk factors by both the public and health officials.
For example, researchers found half of the people who are obese have an additional chronic condition. For smokers, that number is closer to one in four who have an additional chronic condition such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes.
Although researchers separated the risk factors in their study, Sturm notes that, “Bad health habits don’t come in isolation.” Many people fall into more than one of the categories, such as being overweight and a smoker, which can make the ill effects even more severe.
Charles Billington, MD, president of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, says this study reinforces the fact that, “obesity is least as much if not possibly more of a public health problem than some of the better recognized problems like smoking, problem drinking, poverty and the like.”
“Physicians, I think, would clearly side with public health officials that this is a medical problem that has medical consequences that we need to think about in those terms as a public health issue for the public and a disease that deserves attention and potentially treatment for individuals,” says Billington.
Article by: Jennifer Warner, Medical Writer