In the study, researchers tracked more than 5,000 military conscripts starting at the age of 20 until up to the age of 80. They found that at any given age, an obese man was twice as likely to die as a man who was not obese, and that obesity at age 20 years had a constant effect on death up to 60 years later.
They also found that the chance of dying early increased by 10% for each BMI point above the threshold for a healthy weight and that this persisted throughout life, with the obese dying about eight years earlier than the non-obese.
Researchers compared mortality in a sample of 1,930 obese male military conscripts with that in a random sample of 3,601 non-obese male conscripts. Body mass index (BMI) was measured at the average ages of 20, 35 and 46 years, and the researchers investigated that in relation to death in the next follow-up period. A total of 1,191 men had died during the follow-up period of up to 60 years. The results were adjusted to eliminate any influence on the findings from year of birth, education and smoking.
They found that at the age of 70 years, 70% of the men in the comparison group and 50% of those in the obese group were still Researchers estimate that from middle age, the obese men were likely to die eight years earlier than those in the comparison group.
Researchers also investigated the effect of the broad BMI range on mortality from the age of 20 and found the lowest death risk in the men who had a BMI of 25. Underweight men had a slightly elevated risk, and the risk of early death crept up steadily by 10% for each BMI unit above 25 for those men who were overweight or obese.
The study notes that obesity seems to be a persistent condition and it appears that if it has not occurred in men by the age of 20, the chance of it developing later are quite low. The persistence of obesity may partly explain why obesity at 20 years of age has lifelong mortality effects, but it needs to be proven in further studies.
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