Public health preventative strategies have had their hands full with two big offenders that plague our society: smoking, and overweight, each of which are associated with a long list of medical risks. Looking at American data, there has definitely been some success in promotion of smoking cessation: from 1993 to 2008 the proportion of smokers declined in the United States by 18.5 percent. However, the trends of obesity have gone in the opposite direction over that same period – the proportion of obese people increased by 85 percent. While the population has become increasingly obese and smoking rates continue to decline, obesity has now become an equal, if not greater, contributor to the burden of disease and shortening of healthy life in comparison to smoking.

In an article published in the February 2010 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers from Columbia University and The City College of New York calculate that the Quality-Adjusted Life Years lost due to obesity is now equal to, if not greater than, those lost due to smoking, both modifiable risk factors. Smoking had a bigger impact on deaths while obesity had a bigger impact on illness.

A big concern is that the the illness associated with obesity may lead to a future decline in life expectancy of the overall population. On the positive, recent numbers suggest that obesity rates are actually reaching a plateau (see my discussion from Jan 2010) – but there is still much work to be done. As a society, we need to step up obesity prevention, and lend more support and outreach to help overweight people shed the excess pounds. On an individual level, it is important to have a soul-searching look for the best plan to help you lose weight, commit to it, and go for it! There are many options out there to help you out – find the one that is right for you! (a few suggestions here).

Dr. Sue © 2010