How Losing Weight Can Increase Your Life Expectancy


October 15, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Hans J Schmidt, M.D.

There are quite a few consequences of obesity, including conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease. But did you know that being obese could also shorten your life expectancy?

According to a 2014 study by the Intramural Research Program — a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health—extreme obesity may shorten life expectancy by up to 14 years.

“The effects of obesity on life expectancy have been very well studied,” says Hans Schmidt, M.D., bariatric surgeon at Hackensack University Medical Center. “There’s no question that it can shorten your lifespan, and by large numbers. If you can get the weight off before there’s major damage done to your organs, that will tremendously prolong your life.”

The Numbers Behind Obesity

Worldwide, obesity has nearly tripled since 1975, and at least 2.8 million people die each year due to being overweight or obese, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO also found that 39 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2020.

Globally, 44 percent of diabetes, 23 percent of ischemic heart disease and as much as 41 percent of certain cancers can be attributed to being overweight or obese, according to the WHO.

“What’s devastating about numbers like this is that obesity is treatable,” Dr. Schmidt says. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”

How Much Weight Do You Need to Lose?

Losing weight, even just 5 to 10 percent of excess weight, can add years to your life. Not only will you live longer, but also you’ll feel better and deal with fewer health complications.

Though it’s entirely possible to lose weight on your own, losing 100 pounds or more can be extremely difficult, says Dr. Schmidt.

“Losing that much weight doesn’t just require a few changes to your diet and routine,” he says. “It requires you to overhaul your entire life and way of doing things. It’s not easy to do it without help.”

It’s proven that help, in the form of bariatric surgery, can extend your lifespan.

A study, published in the Lancet in May 2021, found that bariatric surgery was associated with increases in life expectancy among severely obese patients. “If metabolic-bariatric surgery rates were increased worldwide to 3.5 percent among patients with diabetes and 2 percent among those without diabetes, more than 19 million life-years could be gained,” the study states.

Whether you lose weight with the help of surgery or on your own, it’s never too late to start the weight loss journey.

“A lot of people wait until they’re over 60 years old to lose weight, and by then, you’ve already done so much damage to your body and bones,” Dr. Schmidt says. “If you wait until your body is damaged, it’s hard to put it back together again. Start now.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.



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