Explosion of child obesity predicted to shorten U.S. life expectancy

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A review by obesity researcher David Ludwig of Children’s Hospital Boston, epidemiologist S. Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and colleagues concludes that obesity now reduces average life expectancy by about four to nine months, a conservative estimate. They add that if the current epidemic of child and adolescent obesity continues unabated, life expectancy could be shortened by two to five years in the coming decades.

Current trends indicate that the prevalence of obesity will continue to rise and affect ever-younger age groups.

The long-term consequences of the child obesity epidemic have yet to be seen, says Ludwig, who directs the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children’s Hospital Boston. Obesity is known to increase risk of serious health problems, including some that were previously rarely found in children.

Two-thirds of American adults today are obese or overweight. Thus far, medical treatment has had little success in offsetting this trend.

Ludwig attributes much of the obesity epidemic to environmental factors linked strongly to the development of the fast food industry, as well as the increase in portion sizes and the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of children.

‘To tackle obesity, we will need unambiguous political leadership at all levels of government, to make clear that public health has to come before private profit,’ Ludwig says.