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Midlife obesity shortens lifespan for women

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Women who gain weight midlife are now found to have a shorter lifespan according to a new study. Researchers from the University of Warwick say the chances of living a long life declines by eighty percent in women who gain weight and are approaching middle age.

The study comes from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts. For every 1kg (2.2 lbs) a woman gains after age 18, the chances of living a healthy long life decrease by five percent. Weight gains, as midlife approaches, are associated with poor quality of life and the development of heart disease and cancer. Women who consistently gain weight throughout life are less likely to experience a long life.

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Data from the Nurses' Health Study, gathered from more than 120,000 female registered nurses living in 11 US states since 1976 was used in the study. Information was submitted every two years from the participants via questionnaires. The study revealed that women who maintained normal weight by age were free of cognitive decline, and chronic illness. The women also reported increased quality of life at age 70.

Dr Oscar Franco, Assistant Clinical Professor of Public Health at Warwick Medical School who collaborated with Harvard researchers says the study “, provides new evidence that adiposity at mid-life is a strong risk factor predicting a worse probability of successful survival among older women. In addition, our data suggest that maintenance of healthy weight throughout adulthood may be vital to optimal overall health at older ages. Given that more and more people are surviving to older ages and, at the same time, gaining weight, our results may be particularly important with respect to clinical or public health interventions."

Obese women with normal body mass index had a 79 percent increased risk of developing a chronic disease with aging, compared to women who maintained normal weights. Overweight women at age 18 who continue to put on pounds into midlife are less likely to enjoy a healthy long life.

BMJ 2009;339:b3796