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The average lifespan in the United States has increased by more than a decade since 1950, to nearly 79 years for someone born in 2011, the researchers said. But rising obesity rates may stall that progress, they said.
"In studying the rate of death among adults younger than age 50, we found that there was no improvement among men who were overweight or obese as teenagers," said Dr. Amir Tirosh, of the division of endocrinology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
"The mortality rate among overweight and obese teenagers in the years 2000 to 2010 was as high as the rate observed in the 1960s and 1970s," he said.
The researchers analyzed long-term data from more than 2.1 million people in Israel who were born between 1950 and 1993 and evaluated for military service between ages 16 and 20.
Among those who were normal-weight teenagers, death rates were 41 percent lower for those born in the 1980s than those born 30 years earlier. But people who were overweight or obese as teens showed no significant improvement in their survival rate over four decades.
The researchers also found that overweight and obese teens were more likely to die before age 50 than normal-weight teens. Even teens who were near the upper end of the normal weight range had an increased risk of premature death, according to the study, which was published online March 6 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
"Public health officials have known all along that obesity contributes to chronic illness, but this study clearly illustrates that it can raise the risk of death in early adulthood," Tirosh said in a journal news release. "This has enormous implications for families, public health and society as a whole."
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, news release, March 26, 2014