One Is the Loneliest Number

Who’s #1: Smoking or Obesity?

Smoking or obesity: who wins the mortality sweepstakes? Some unsung hero of stupid headlines has set up this useless question and twisted a study of severe obesity into a headline about overweight. Whoever you are, please step forward and claim your prize for the worst health news headline in recent memory:

Being Overweight Is Actually Worse for You than Smoking

The study that inspired this headline is actually quite useful. It’s a pooled analysis of 20 prospective studies addressing mortality in severe obesity. It provides unmistakable clarity about the impact of severe obesity, characterized by a BMI between 40 and 60.

The investigators found a loss of 6.5 to 13.7 years of life as BMI within this range increased. Deaths due to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and respiratory diseases increased with increasing BMI.

Given the alarming rates of severe obesity that are growing, unchecked by policies that focus on primary prevention, this study provides compelling evidence of the need for a change in strategies.

The comparison to smoking — as tempting as it is to headline writers — provides more distraction than anything. The real focus should be on the need to address severe obesity.

Click here to read the study and here to read more in the LA Times.

One Is the Loneliest Number, photograph © jmv0586 / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.