Obesity Could Reduce U.S. Life Expectancy

Recent studies have shown that obesity had a more pronounced impact on life expectancy in the U.S. has than accidents and homicides. Since Americans are getting fatter by the minute, we might well reverse the decades long trend toward longer lifespans.

Increasing waistlines, falling longevity (U.S. News)

Life expectancy jumped at the end of the last century as medical advances and changes in sanitation made many diseases less common and more curable. Now, we’ve come to expect that longevity will rise as steadily and inevitably as the cost of living. But, researchers from all over the United States say that this trend may not last forever and that obesity could for the first time ever cause life expectancy to fall.


Obesity reduced the life expectancy of Americans by four to nine months. That reduction is greater, the researchers say, than the negative impact on life expectancy of all types of accidental deaths, including accidents and homicides. What’s more, the researchers say, because obesity among youth is increasing at a fast clip, its impact on life expectancy is likely to become more pronounced. The researchers speculate that life expectancy will stagnate in five to 10 years, and then begin to decrease as obesity begins picking off the younger generation.

Not only is this speculative and based on the bizarre presumption that no advances in medicine will offset this impact but it actually does not sound like that big a deal. Given that the four to nine months come at the end of a long life, the tradeoff for seventy five years of enjoying access to good-tasting foods may well be worth the trade-off.

There are all sorts of reasons to eat a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, and take care of one’s health and appearance. A slight increase in the aggregate life expectancy, though, is pretty low on that list.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steve says:

    This is slightly off topic, but I’ve pointed to obesity as being a potential problem for using things like life expectancy as a measure of the quality of health care in a country. Most people point out that the U.S. life expectancy is below that of country X, Y and Z all of which have nationalized health care as if that is the only variable in question.

  2. JakeV says:

    Given that the four to nine months come at the end of a long life, the tradeoff for seventy five years of enjoying access to good-tasting foods may well be worth the trade-off.

    I don’t think this is how aggregate life expectancy works, since it is averaged across the whole population.

    This article isn’t saying you are going to have a lot of fat people dying 4-9 months earlier than they would have otherwise.

    Instead, what you will have is a lot of fat people dying years earlier than they would have, while non-fat people live just as long or longer as before. Hence the 4-9 month average– it’s the average of a large number of people who don’t lose any time at all, and another large number who lose a lot of time.

    In short, your reference to “4-9 months at the end of a long life” seems to bear little relationship to reality.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Jake: Fair point. Still, a huge portion (no pun) of the population is obese by current guidelines.