Obesity Cuts Lifespan for Non-Smoking Women

Obese women who do not smoke, especially those in low income groups, are susceptible to premature death from heart disease and cancer, new research shows.

It is well known that smoking is a direct cause of extreme health issues, such as lung cancer and heart disease, which can lead to premature death. Now, results of a long-term study indicate that excess weight can lead to premature death from similar conditions in non-smoking women.

Researchers from NHS Health Scotland reviewed data on more than 15,000 adults ages 45 to 64 who were followed from the early 1970s until their deaths. They categorized each individual into separate groups based on their occupation (e.g., manual and non-manual labor), and also by their weight (e.g., normal weight, overweight, moderately obese and severely obese).

Within the study cohort, 3,613 participants were non-smoking women. During 28 years of follow up, 51 percent of those women died prematurely, including 25 percent of non-smoking women that died from diseases of the heart and circulation, and nearly 12 percent that died from cancer.

Moreover, about 70 percent of the women in the low occupational groups were overweight or obese, indicating a correlation between lower income and obesity. Non-smoking women were also more likely to be severely obese than women that smoked, and were more likely to die of heart disease and cancer than female smokers.

Obesity has been linked to numerous conditions, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, high blood pressure, respiratory difficulties, joint problems, and depression. Lead researcher Dr. Laurence Gruer noted that individuals who never smoke and keep their weight within a reasonable limit can still expect to live a long and healthy life, even if they earn below average income and live in a more disadvantaged area.

The study findings appeared earlier this month in the British Medical Journal. In a related editorial, Professor Johan Mackenbach from Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam stated that although the study is welcome, “it is important not to forget that smoking is a much stronger risk factor for mortality than most other risk factors, including obesity.” He added, “inequalities in mortality persist among those who have never smoked, partly because obesity takes over the role of smoking, but they persist at a much lower level, and that is good news for whoever wants to reduce health inequalities.”

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