Feature Archive

Never Too Late to Lose Weight

Shedding those excess pounds improves your quality of life.

By Lynda Liu
WebMD Feature

Those extra pounds you've been meaning to shed may be hurting more than just your vanity. In fact, losing weight now may help you live longer. A recent study -- the largest yet on obesity and mortality -- has found that the more overweight you are, the higher your risk of death. The results, based on data from more than one million adults and published in The New England Journal of Medicine, held true for all age groups and even for those who were disease-free and had never smoked.

"As a society, we're getting heavier and heavier, and there's a cost associated with it in terms of our health," says the study's lead author, Eugenia E. Calle, PhD, the director of analytic epidemiology at the American Cancer Society's department of epidemiology and surveillance research in Atlanta, Georgia. Obesity rates in this country have increased from 12% in 1991 to 18% in 1998, according to another study published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

While death rates from all diseases increased with the number of excess pounds, Calle and her co-researchers found that certain diseases had particularly strong associations with obesity. The heaviest participants had a 40 to 80% higher risk of dying from cancer than participants of normal weight. Extra pounds put both men and women at higher risk for heart disease -- but in men the added risk was particularly striking: The heaviest men were three times more likely to die from heart disease than men of normal weight.