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Body weight

Just a few extra pounds heightens risk of early death

Wednesday, August 23, 2006 by: NewsTarget
Tags: body weight, weight gain, premature death

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(NewsTarget) A recent study appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that even a small amount of excess weight can increase the risk of premature death.

The study, which was funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), tracked more than a half-million members of AARP -- including 180,000 non-smokers -- for nearly a decade, and found that those who were somewhat overweight had a 20 to 40 percent increased risk of premature death compared to normal weight people. Obese study participants had double to triple the risk of dying prematurely. Dr. Michael Leitzmann, the study's lead author, says his study suggests that roughly 19 percent of premature deaths can be attributed to excess weight.

"This may not be the news a lot of people want to hear, but I think the study provides pretty clear evidence that being overweight is not a benign condition and we shouldn't be complacent about it," says Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health.

The new study contradicts previous studies that indicated a small amount of extra weight could protect against premature death. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study last year that came to such a conclusion, but the NCI study was larger than the CDC's, and included a greater number of non-smokers to offset the fact that smokers tend to be thinner, but die earlier -- which can skew results toward favorable outcomes for overweight people.

J. Justin Wilson, a senior research analyst for the Center for Consumer Freedom -- a group funded by the food and restaurant industry -- says researchers should "stop myopically harping on weight when our health is influenced by so many other factors."

"The Center for Consumer Freedom is a front group created by the food industry to distort and stonewall the science on obesity in the same way that pro-business groups are stubbornly denying global warming," countered Mike Adams, a consumer health advocate. "They are pushing preposterous concepts -- that no food is harmful to your health, and that body weight is virtually irrelevant to health," he added. "Their mission is to protect the sales of the very same junk foods and sugary beverages that promote obesity and weight gain."

Aviva Must, an obesity expert at the Tufts School of Medicine, says the new study supports the last 20 years of research indicating that even a little excess weight can lead to premature death. Must says consumers must act sooner than later to prevent excess weight: "You don't want to get to age 50 and be facing 40 pounds that are hard to shed."


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