NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 20, 2005

Obesity may not be killing nearly as many Americans as has been widely reported, a new study shows.

  • About 112,000 deaths in 2000 were blamed on obesity, according to new estimates from scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.
  • That is much lower than a highly publicized figure released in March 2004 when other CDC researchers estimated that about 400,000 deaths a year were associated with obesity, poor diet and inactivity.
  • That number was later lowered to 365,000 when problems with the calculations were detected.

So what's the official number?

  • It may be a while before anyone knows: Pinpointing obesity-related deaths is an evolving science as researchers use different statistics.
  • The larger number from the earlier study, for example, includes obese and overweight people.
  • The smaller number includes only the obese, those 30 pounds or more over a healthy weight.

About a third of Americans are obese and are at increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis and other diseases.

The impact of obesity on death rates may have decreased because of improved medical care and better treatments for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, says Katherine Flegal, lead author of the study. "We know that heart-disease mortality has been dropping, and it's the primary cause of excess deaths associated with obesity."

"Regardless of what number you want to use, this is only a tip of the iceberg on the problem of obesity," says Donna Stroup, one of the authors on the first CDC study. "The medical cost related to obesity is more than $93 billion a year, and we know these folks are at much greater risk of poor quality of life."

Source: Nanci Hellmich, "Study: Fewer than expected dying from obesity," USA Today, April 20, 2005; based upon: Katherine M. Flegal et al., "Excess Deaths Associated With Underweight, Overweight, and Obesity," Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 293 No. 15, April 20, 2005.

For JAMA text:


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