By Shawn McKee
Smoking has long been considered the greatest modifiable risk factor affecting longevity and quality of life, but it looks like obesity may now be an even greater threat to the health of Americans.
In the the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers from Columbia University and The City College of New York calculate that the quality of life and years lost due to obesity are now equal to or greater than those lost due to smoking.
Both of these modifiable risk factors affect how someone feels on a day-to-day basis, as well as their overall lifespan. While smoking has a larger impact on deaths, obesity has a greater impact on illness and quality of life.
From 1993-2008 the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), the largest on-going state-based health survey of the U.S., conducted interviews of more than 3.5 million people. The survey asked questions about recent health problems and overall physical and mental health, then the authors converted this data into healthy days lost to smoking and obesity.
Smoking tobacco is recognized as the leading cause of lung cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the U.S., 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in men — and 80 percent in women — are due to smoking.
People who smoke are 10 to 20 more times likely to get lung cancer than those who do not smoke, reports the CDC. Smoking also increases the risk of other cancers, as well as heart disease, stroke and emphysema.
Carrying a lot of extra weight also takes its toll on a person’s body and can cause a myriad of health problems. Obesity increases risk for heart disease, diabetes, several forms of cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, sleep apnea and osteoarthritis, according to a report by the CDC.
In a 2008 report, the CDC found that 33.8 percent of American adults are obese (32.2 percent men, 35.5 percent women), while the number of US smokers fell to 20.6 percent.
Quitting smoking is a good start to improving quality and length of life, but reducing weight is fast becoming just as crucial. It took decades for Americans to realize the dangers of tobacco smoke, but hopefully we can make the learning curve a little faster on the health risks of obesity — before this problem grows out of control.