Life expectancy is still rising – despite obesity epidemic
By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor
Friday, 18 March 2011
We are living longer despite getting fatter, and there is no sign yet that the increase in life expectancy is coming to an end, according to a study.
A baby born today in the West can look forward to between six and eight years of extra life compared with one born in 1970. Moreover, Britons are outliving Americans, despite the US having a higher national income and the highest spending on healthcare.
Researchers say life expectancy is increasing in almost all European countries for the first time in decades.
But obesity has also been rising in the UK, from 7 per cent of adults in 1980 to 23 per cent in 2009. Rates are even higher in the US. Obesity is known to increase the risk of heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure – so why is life expectancy not declining?
Professor David Leon, an expert on population health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who analysed the figures in the International Journal of Epidemiology, said: "There is a tendency for people to talk about things going wrong. But it is important the public are made aware that, so far, things are going right."
However, he warned there was no room for complacency and that many important questions remained about the drivers of the trends – such as the decline in smoking since 1970 and the fact heart disease deaths have fallen faster in the UK than in any other western European country.
But a little extra weight might also be good for you. Professor Leon said: "If you get poorly you lose weight. So if you fall sick it may be better if you have got something in reserve to call on."
Overall, people who were overweight had a lower mortality rate than people who were underweight, obese or normal.
However, Professor Leon warned that quality of life was just as important.