Calorie Control Commentary (ISSN 1049-
1791) is published by the Calorie Control
Council, an international non-profit associa-
tion of manufacturers of low-calorie and
reduced-fat foods and beverages.
Commentary is written by Council staff, which
includes specialists in nutrition, food science
and food safety.
© 1999 by the
Calorie Control Council
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an being overweight actually contribute to the risk of dying earlier?
Researchers are now saying "yes." A landmark study, conduct-
ed by the American Cancer Society and published in the
New England Journal of Medicine, found that
there is an increased risk of an earlier death in obese persons,
even for non-smokers and otherwise healthy individuals.
The study found "an especially clear association between
excess weight and a higher risk of dying from heart disease
This is the largest study that
has been done concerning the
relationship between obesity and
life expectancy. Participants
enrolled in the national Cancer
Prevention Study II between the
years of 1982 and 1996 were used
in the study. Researchers calculat-
ed Body Mass Index (BMI), a ratio
of height to weight, and tracked
age and cause of death.
Researchers accounted for age,
education, physical activity, alcohol
use, marital status, use of aspirin
as a blood thinner, consumption
of fats and vegetables, and use of
After adjusting the results
based on the information men-
tioned above, researchers found
that starting at a BMI of 25 [a BMI
between 19 and 24 is considered a healthy weight for men and
women], the risk of premature death gradually increased in
healthy non-smoking white males and females, as well as
black males. Men with a BMI of 40 or above were nearly three
times more likely to die early than those men who weighed
significantly less (100 or more pounds less) at the same
height. The researchers also found that white women with a
BMI of 40 or above had double the risk of dying than did those
women who weighed approximately 100 pounds less at the
same height. The only exception was seen in black
women. No increased risk of premature death was
observed in obese black women when compared
with slender black women.
Dr. JoAnn Manson, the Harvard researcher who
conducted the study, said it "settles once and for all
any lingering questions about whether weight alone
increases the risk of death and disease. The evi-
dence is now compelling and irrefutable. Obesity is
probably the second-leading cause of death in the
United States after cigarette
smoking, so it is a very seri-
Only a little less eating
or more exercise is all it
takes to turn around weight
problems that kill many
Americans early, according to
health experts. "Modest
changes in what we are eat-
ing and what we are doing
may go a long way," stated
Dr. William H. Dietz, director
of the Division of Nutrition
and Physical Activity at the
Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC). Just
50 fewer calories a day, or
more exercise, works out to
five pounds less weight over
a year. Just 100 fewer calories per day, whether by
consuming less or burning more, can result in a 10-
pound weight loss per year.
Obesity Increases Risk of Dying Earlier
Providing timely information on low-calorie and
reduced-fat foods and beverages, weight man-
agement, physical activity and healthy eating.
The study found
weight and a
higher risk of
dying from heart
disease or cancer.
C O M M E N T A R Y