A new study out this month reveals obesity is far more dangerous than previously reported.
According to a new paper published in the journal Population Studies from the University of Colorado Boulder, people who are obese or carry excess weight face a risk of death anywhere from 22 to 91 percent higher than those at a healthy weight.
“Existing studies have likely underestimated the mortality consequences of living in a country where cheap, unhealthy food has grown increasingly accessible, and sedentary lifestyles have become the norm,” said the study author and Sociology Professor Ryan Masters in a university press release. “This study and others are beginning to expose the true toll of this public health crisis.”
Masters examined data from nearly 18,000 individuals between 1988 to 2015 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Analyzing the Body Mass Index (BMI) of individuals over time allowed Masters to counter deficiencies in the popular index that fails to capture an overall depiction of health.
“It isn’t fully capturing all of the nuances and different sizes and shapes the body comes in,” Masters said of BMI. “It’s a reflection of stature at a point in time. That’s it.”
After adjusting for biases in BMI, Masters found people carrying excess weight had far worse mortality outcomes than previously known.
“For groups born in the 1970s or 1980s who have lived their whole lives in this obesogenic environment, the prospects of healthy aging into older adulthood does not look good right now,” said Masters.
At the same time, testosterone levels have fallen across the board among a population in an environment saturated with endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The maximum range used to identify men with low testosterone has fallen by 42 percent just in the last decade as low T becomes the new norm. For men, testosterone is the primary sex hormone regulating metabolic function.
Master’s research follows another study published by researchers at London’s Imperial School of Public Health that found processed food can be deadly. After analyzing data from nearly 200,000 middle-aged adults over roughly 10 years, researchers found diets high in ultra-processed foods were linked to higher rates of cancer and mortality.
“Although our study cannot prove causation, other available evidence shows that reducing ultra-processed foods in our diet could provide important health benefits,” said lead author Dr. Eszter Vamos.
While BMI only offers a limited depiction of overall health at a particular time, the index remains useful for examining metabolic health over broad populations. American BMIs remain on an upward trajectory as the nation fails to forcefully confront the obesity epidemic with vigorous diet and exercise.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 42 percent of Americans were considered obese between 2017 and March 2020. Obesity prevalence in children aged 2-19 within the same time frame is nearly 20 percent, or 1 in 5 kids.