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Life expectancy and obesity

Being overweight or having obesity will take years off your life

. Women with obesity in their 40s will experience a reduction of 4.1 years, whilst men stand to lose 5.1 years

Young adults with obese in Australia can expect to lose up to ten years in life expectancy, according to a major study from The George Institute for Global Health and the University of Sydney, which also predicted that 36.3 million years of life will be lost over the lifetime of today's Australian adult population as a result of overweight and obesity. Men will lose on average 27% more years of life than women.

"We know that excess weight has an impact on your health, but to have excess weight as a young adult is really significant on life expectancy,” said lead author, Dr Thomas Lung, from The George Institute for Global Health. “We are talking about losing up to 10 years of your life.”

The model used by the researchers calculates the expected amount of weight that adults put on every year depending on their age, sex and current weight. It also takes into account current life expectancy in Australia and higher mortality of people with excess weight.

The model predicted remaining life expectancy for people in their 20s, 30s, 40, 50s and 60s in healthy, overweight, obese and severely obese weight categories. It also calculated the number of years lost over the lifetime for people with excess weight in each age group, compared to those with a healthy weight. The researchers said the findings were relevant to other high-income countries. The paper, ‘Impact of overweight, obesity and severe obesity on life expectancy of Australian adults’, was published in the International Journal of Obesity.

On average, healthy weight men and women in their 20s can expect to live another 57 and 60 years, respectively. But, if they already have obesity in early adulthood, women will lose six of these years and men will lose eight. If they are in a severely obese weight category, women will lose eight years and men will lose ten.

The risks of early death associated with excess weight were apparent at every age group but decreased with age. Women with obesity in their 40s will experience a reduction of 4.1 years, whilst men stand to lose 5.1 years. For individuals in their 60s, this reduction in life expectancy is estimated at 2.3 years for women and 2.7 years for men.

These gender disparities mean that men in their 20s in Australia today will stand to lose 5.6 million years of life as a result of excess weight over the course of their lifetime, compared to 3 million for women in the same age bracket.

"There is the assumption that overweight and obesity is a problem for people in middle age, and that people in their 20s and 30s are in the prime of their lives,” said study co-author and Associate Professor Alison Hayes, from the School of Public Health at The University of Sydney. “Yet currently, only 43% of Australian men in their 20s and 34% in their 30s are in a healthy weight range, which is worrying."

The George Institute recently provided a submission to the Senate Select Committee into the Obesity Epidemic in Australia where it fully endorsed the Tipping the Scales report produced by the Obesity Policy Coalition. The report, with support from over 35 organisations, makes a number of recommendations to tackle the obesity crisis including making the Health Star Rating system mandatory, developing a national active travel strategy to promote walking, cycling and use of public transport and establishing obesity prevention as a national priority with a national taskforce.

"Our model predicts adult obesity prevalence will increase to 35% by 2025,” concluded Lund. “We need to act now and have an obesity prevention strategy targeting adults at all ages and in particular young adults."

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