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Obesity Responsible for More Deaths Than Smoking

Obesity-related mortality nearly twice the rate of tobacco-related deaths.
Published Online: May 11,2017
Laurie Toich, Assistant Editor
To prevent premature mortality, it is recommended that individuals eat a healthy diet, implement an exercise regimen, refrain from smoking, and be generally health-conscious. However, these modifiable risk factors have been ignored by some Americans, resulting in a boom of obesity, diabetes, and other conditions that result in early mortality.
 
A new study presented at the Society of General Internal Medicine 2017 Annual Meeting found that obesity has caused up to 47% more life-years lost than tobacco. The authors also found that tobacco-related life years lost were similar to the rate for hypertension.
 
In the study, the authors used data from 2014 to evaluate how modifiable risk factors may contribute to the US mortality rate.
 
The authors approximated life-years lost for each risk factor by examining the change in mortality rate when a single risk factor was eliminated in a hypothetical population. Then, they compared the results with life-years lost for a population without any risk factors. Since some less common factors may play an important role in population subgroups, the authors also projected life expectancy gains for each risk factor.
 
"The reality is, while we may know the proximate cause of a patient's death, for example, breast cancer or heart attack, we don't always know the contributing factor(s), such as tobacco use, obesity, alcohol and family history,” said lead author Glen Taksler, PhD. “For each major cause of death, we identified a root cause to understand whether there was a way a person could have lived longer."
 
Overall, the investigators found that the most life-years lost were due to obesity, diabetes, tobacco, hypertension, and high cholesterol, according to the study.
 
While these factors should all be addressed, the authors note that patients may need different conditions managed prior to modifying risk factors. The authors note that patients who are obese and have alcohol use disorder should first seek treatment for alcohol use disorder, even though obesity has a larger effect on the population.
 
These findings highlight the success of public health initiatives to reduce tobacco use, as tobacco would have topped the list years ago, according to the study.
 
Since diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol can be treated, the authors suggest that patients should gain a better understanding of treatment options and disease management approaches that can be used to reduce life-years lost.
 
These findings also stress the importance of preventive care, since the main causes of life-years lost can be avoided.
 
The authors are continuing their evaluation of modifiable factors contributing to mortality in the US, the study concluded.
 
"Modifiable behavioral risk factors pose a substantial mortality burden in the US," Dr Taksler concluded. "These preliminary results continue to highlight the importance of weight loss, diabetes management and healthy eating in the US population."