Thursday, March 17, 2005

U.S. Life Expectancy About to Decline

from the UIC press release:

A team of researchers led by University of Illinois at Chicago professor S. Jay Olshansky is predicting a decline in life expectancy in the United States later this century. That prediction, which is based on the dramatic rise in obesity, especially among young people and minorities, is from a special report appearing in the March 17 issue in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study determines that obesity currently reduces life expectancy by approximately four to nine months. "The magnitude of that effect may sound trivial to some, but in fact it's greater than the negative effect of all accidental mortality, such as car accidents, suicides and homicides combined," said Olshansky, who is professor of epidemiology in the UIC School of Public Health.

The researchers also predict that the rapid rise in obesity among children and teenagers in the past 30 years will have life-shortening effects in the future -- perhaps enough to offset any improvements in longevity from anticipated advances in biomedical technology.
The findings are contrary to what some scientists predict about human life expectancy, which assumes that past increases will continue indefinitely. Most forecasts of life expectancy are based on historical trends, but the authors conclude that such estimates fail to consider the obesity epidemic.

Olshansky and colleagues argue that current extrapolation models used to predict life expectancy do not take into consideration the health status of people currently alive.

Longevity predictions are crucial for health policy and for economic policy as well. "One of the consequences of our prediction is that Social Security does not appear to be in nearly as bad a shape as we think," Olshansky said. "The obese may be inadvertently 'saving' Social Security, but the obese themselves and the health care system that cares for them will pay a very heavy price in terms of higher death rates and escalating health care costs."

I'm just waiting for Bush to try to spin this into good news(and more proof that we need "personal" accounts).