Health

Life expectancy on the rise 'despite obesity epidemic'

  • 18 March 2011
  • From the section Health
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Obese man measuring his waist
Health problems arising from obesity could cause life expectancies to alter

Life expectancy in the UK is on the rise, along with the rest of Europe, despite fears over the impact of obesity, a population expert has said.

Analysing trends from the past 40 years, Professor David Leon credited a decline in deaths from heart disease for the continued rise.

People in the UK are also living longer than those in the US, he says.

His analysis is published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Professor Leon, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, points out that in the last five years most European countries have been going in a "positive direction" for the first time in decades.

Despite concern that health problems arising from obesity would affect life expectancy in high-income countries, such as the UK, there is no evidence of this to date.

Professor Leon said that deaths from cardiovascular disease in the UK have seen, "some of the largest and most rapid falls of any Western European country, partly due to improvements in treatment as well as reductions in smoking and other risk factors."

But he admits that it may to be too soon to see the impact of increasing obesity rates.

"We are yet to see the impact of a generation of people who have been obese from childhood through to adulthood. We can't predict how that will affect life expectancy figures in the future."

"We are definitely seeing type-2 diabetes occurring more in teenagers due to obesity, but this is not immediately being translated into mortality rates."

"This is because of decreased rates of cardiovascular disease and concerted efforts to reduce risk and modify weight," Professor Leon said.

In 2007, the US was found to be at the same level for life expectancy as the lowest of any Western European country (Portugal for males and Denmark for females).

Its life expectancy rate for women has been increasing at a much slower pace than Western Europe since the 1980s.

Life expectancy in the US was 78 years in 2007, compared with 80 years in the UK.

Professor Leon writes: "This observation underlines that gross domestic product (GDP) and health care expenditure per capita are not good predictors of population health within high-income countries."

The latest figures from 2009 show that life expectancy in the UK is 82.6 years for women and 78.4 years for men.

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