Obesity has reached pandemic proportions worldwide with more than 600 million obese, and as the number of people weighing in at unhealthy numbers continues to rise, so does the risk of premature death. According to a team of researchers from Harvard’s School of Public Health, simply being overweight can increase the risk of death, which is twice as high for men then it is for women.

"Obesity is second only to smoking as a cause of premature death in America," said the study’s lead researcher Richard Peto, professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at the University of Oxford in England, in a statement. "Smoking causes about a quarter of all premature deaths in Europe and North America, and smokers can halve their risk of premature death by stopping. But overweight and obesity now cause about one in seven of all premature deaths in Europe and one in five of all premature deaths in North America."

For their study, published in the journal The Lancet, researchers examined data from 10.6 million men and women between the ages of 20 and 90 throughout the world. Over the course of the study period, which lasted roughly 14 years, 1.6 million participants died. When researchers crunched the numbers, they found a man of normal weight had a 19 percent risk of dying before turning 70, while the risk was 11 percent for women before age 70. But once a person is considered obese, their risk of death jumps up to 30 percent for men and 15 percent for women.

Peto added: "If you could lose about 10 percent of your weight, a woman would knock 10 percent off the risk of dying before she was 70, and for a man it would knock about 20 percent off.”

Weight Scale
Obesity puts men at a higher risk of death compared to women. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obese people are automatically at a higher risk for developing heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancers, which are some of the leading causes of death in the United States.

"There has long been clear and decisive evidence linking obesity to increased risk for the major chronic diseases that are in turn linked to increased risk for premature death,” said Dr. David Katz, president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, in a statement. "The obesity pandemic continues to advance, putting ever more of humanity at risk. What we already had abundant cause to think, that risk includes early death. This constitutes an urgent call for corrective actions at a global scale."

Experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) believe establishing well-developed childhood interventions are the key to drastically lowering the rates of obesity across the globe. Being overweight and obese is largely preventable because current treatment practices are designed to curb the problem. According to WHO, a cure for fighting the childhood obesity epidemic can lead to effectively maintaining a new generation of healthier adults with lower rates of premature death.

Barry Graubard, a senior investigator in the biostatistics branch of the U.S. National Cancer Institute said, "We still have more work to do to better understand how weight, weight gain, and weight loss influence mortality."

Source: The Global BMI Mortality Collaboration. Body-Mass Index and All-Cause Mortality: Individual-Participant-Data Meta-Analysis of 239 Prospective Studies in Four Continents. The Lancet. 2016.