NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 17, 2005

Obesity could shorten the average lifespan of an entire generation - today's children - by two to five years, according to a controversial new life-expectancy analysis.

This could have a major effect on Medicare when obesity-related illnesses kick in, according to the researchers from several universities and hospitals. And it will affect Social Security because there will be fewer older people, they say.

  • Life expectancy in the United States is now at a high of 77.6 years; if the researchers' predictions hold true in the next 50 years, it would be the first reversal in life expectancy since the government started keeping track in 1900.
  • About 16 percent of kids today are overweight, and 15 percent more are at risk of becoming too heavy, which increases their chance of ailments such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The team examined national obesity rates and data on the years of life lost to obesity. Among the projections published in today's New England Journal of Medicine:

  • Obesity now reduces life expectancy by four to nine months.
  • If childhood obesity continues unabated, people will have shorter lives because of the health toll of being heavy at such a young age.
  • Minorities will be hit hardest because they have had the greatest increases in obesity and because many have limited access to health care.

Childhood obesity is like a massive tsunami headed toward the United States, says pediatric endocrinologist David Ludwig, director of the obesity program at Children's Hospital in Boston and one of the study's authors. But critics say the study is based on limited data and contend there is no good methodology for determining death rates from obesity.

Source: Nanci Hellmich, "Obesity threatens life expectancy: Disputed study says young could lose 2 to 5 years," USA Today, March 17, 2005; based upon: Source: S. Jay Olshansky et al., "A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States in the 21st Century," New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 352:1138-1145, No. 11, March 17, 2005.


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