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Women are more likely than men to suffer health problems and worse quality of life due to obesity

Nearly one-third of Americans are obese and nearly two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese. A national survey reveals that being overweight or obese profoundly affects the length and quality of life and increases the burden of disease. However, excess weight seems to harm women more than men, notes Erica Lubetkin, M.D., M.P.H., of City University of New York Medical School. Dr. Lubetkin and colleagues analyzed the 2000 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey of U.S. households and the 1990-1992 National Health Interview Survey, which they linked to National Death Index data through 1995. The study was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS13770).

Although 57 percent of men were overweight (body mass index or BMI of 25 to 30 kg/m2) compared with 43 percent of women, 54 percent of women were obese (BMI of 30 or more) compared with 46 percent of men. Adults who were obese were more likely than normal weight (BMI of 23 to 25) people to report fair or poor health, diabetes, and hypertension. Health-related quality of life scores declined with increasing weight category, with a few notable exceptions.

In general, overweight men in the U.S. lost an additional 47,000 years of life due to disease annually, whereas overweight women lost 1 million additional years of life annually relative to normal weight people. Obese men lost an additional 1.21 million years of life annually, whereas obese women lost an additional 1.89 million years of life annually relative to normal weight people. Also, the decline in quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) due to being overweight was nearly four times higher among women than among men (960,000 QALYs vs. 243,000 QALYs). Obese women had over twice the decline in QALYs than obese men (1.95 million QALYs vs. 912,000 QALYs). The burden of disease in total QALYs among overweight and obese women was 6.6 and 1.8 times higher, respectively, than overweight and obese men. Obese women younger than 45 years had lower excess mortality than younger obese men, but after age 45, mortality for obese women far surpassed that of men.

See "Gender and the burden of disease attributable to obesity," by Peter Muennig, M.D., M.P.H., Dr. Lubetkin, Haomiao Jia, Ph.D., and Peter Franks, M.D., in the September 2006 American Journal of Public Health 96(9), pp. 1662-1668.

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