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Explosion of child obesity predicted to shorten us life expectancy

It's been assumed that U.S. life expectancy would rise indefinitely, but a new data analysis, published as a special report in the March 17 New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that this trend is about to reverse itself -- due to the rapid rise in obesity, especially among children.

A review by obesity researcher David Ludwig of Children's Hospital Boston, epidemiologist S. Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and colleagues concludes that obesity now reduces average life expectancy by about 4 to 9 months, a conservative estimate. More ominously, the researchers further conclude that if the current epidemic of child and adolescent obesity continues unabated, life expectancy could be shortened by two to five years in the coming decades.

The researchers based their predictions on data on the prevalence of obesity from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and previously published estimates of years-of-life lost from obesity. A reduced life expectancy could have implications for such programs as Social Security and Medicare, they suggest.

Current trends indicate that the prevalence of obesity will continue to rise and affect ever-younger age groups, especially among children, the researchers note. Minority groups are expected to be hardest hit because of their reduced access to health care and especially sharp increases in childhood and adult obesity.

The long-term consequences of the child obesity epidemic have yet to be seen, says Ludwig, who directs the Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) program at Children's Hospital Boston. Obesity is known to increase risk for heart disease and cancer, and the surge in childhood obesity has already triggered an unprecedented rise in type 2 ("adult") diabetes in children.

"The tsunami of childhood obesity has not yet hit the shore -- it takes many years for complications to develop," Ludwig says. "If the clock starts ticking at age 12 or 14, the con
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Contact: Bess Andrews
elizabeth.andrews@childrens.harvard.edu
617-355-6420
Children's Hospital Boston
16-Mar-2005


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