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According to Roni Caryn Rabin’s article in the NY Times, a large European study spanning decades has found that young men who were overweight at 18 were as likely to die at age 60 as light smokers.
But obese teens were at double the risk of dying early — the same numbers as heavy smokers.
Published in the British Medical Journal, the study tracked the death rates of 45,920 Swedish men over a 30 year span. If men were obese when they signed up for service in the Swedish army, they were at more than twice the risk of dying by age sixty compared normal weight men.
It was the same increase in risk as those faced by normal-weight recruits who smoke half a pack or more.
If the men were overweight but did not smoke, they were about one-third more likely to die prematurely.
The study’s first author, Martin Neovius, says “We know that health behaviors are established early on in life. If you already are smoking, then smoking cessation combined with weight-maintenance counseling woould probably be a good idea.” Neovius is a postdoctoral fellow at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
Some experts caution against drawing conclusions too quickly from this study. Since researchers knew only the weight of the men when they signed up, and since most people gain weight as they age, subsequent weight gain may have been in play.
Dr David F Williamson, a visiting professor at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, says that for this and other reasons, the deaths may simply be the result of obesity, not teen-age obesity.
But smoking is widely acknowledged to be the single most important cause of preventable deaths and disease. Says Williamson
“It’s fairly dramatic when you say something is as lethal as smoking. We know of very few things from a health perspective that are as lethal as smoking.”
source: Roni Caryn Rabin’s article in the NY Times on 3/4/09.
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