By John Salak –
This is definitely an unhealthy balancing act. While there is reason to cheer declining deaths attributed to smoking, casualties tied to obesity and excess body fat in Western nations have been on the rise for most of the last decade.
Researchers in England and Scotland report that between 2003 and 2017, deaths from smoking declined from 23.1 percent to 19.4 percent, while those linked to obesity have risen from 17.9 percent to 23.1 percent.
The team, in fact, estimates that sometime around 2014, total deaths from body fat issues overtook those from smoking. While confident their findings reflect wider trends, the researchers are quick to note that their work focused exclusively on data drawn from almost 200,000 individuals in Scotland and England.
The mixed-blessings shift shouldn’t be surprising, according to corresponding author Jill Pell of the University of Glasgow. “For several decades smoking has been a major target of public health interventions as it is a leading cause of avoidable deaths. As a result, the prevalence of smoking has fallen in the United Kingdom,” she explained. “At the same time the prevalence of obesity has increased. Our research indicates that, since 2014, obesity and excess body fat may have contributed to more deaths in England and Scotland than smoking.”
In breaking the numbers down further, the research team found that age and gender also play a role in this deadly balance. Obesity and body fat, for example, contributed to over 3 percent more deaths than smoking-related problems for individuals over 45 years old in 2017. Smoking, in turn, accounted for 2.4 percent more death than body fat issues in younger individuals.
Men also face a greater morality risk from weight issues than women. For example, these deaths rose 31 percent for men between 2003 and 2017, while rising 25.9 percent for women during this time.
“The increase in estimated deaths due to obesity and excess body fat is likely to be due to their contributions to cancer and cardiovascular disease,” Pell reported. “Our findings suggest that the public health and policy interventions aimed at reducing the prevalence of smoking have been successful and that national strategies to address obesity and excess body fat, particularly focusing on middle-aged and older age groups and men, should be a public health priority.”
If battling obesity should be a public policy priority, it is best to focus on the young, according to researchers out of University of California-Riverside. Through their work on mice, they found that consuming too much fat and sugar as a child can have lasting negative health impacts even if these individuals switch to healthier diets later on in life.
The problems not only involve obesity and body fat issues, but can have harmful effects on a person’s microbiome, limiting the effectiveness of their immune systems and the ability to break down foods and synthesize key vitamins.
“We studied mice, but the effect we observed is equivalent to kids having a Western diet, high in fat and sugar and their gut microbiome still being affected up to six years after puberty,” explained UCR evolutionary physiologist Theodore Garland.
Want more proof that establishing long-term health starts early? Garland laid it out succinctly. “You are not only what you eat, but what you ate as a child,” he declared.