Which is Worse Smoking or Being Obese Researchers Weigh In

The negative effects of smoking and obesity are compared

middle aged woman smoking
Lucia Lambriex/Taxi/Getty Images

Question: Which is Worse - Smoking or Being Obese?
 

Answer: If you had asked me this question a while ago, I would have answered, “Smoking, without a doubt, smoking.” But as more and more research is being done on the impact of obesity on life expectancy, the answer to this question about smoking and obesity is becoming less clear.

Smoking and Life Expectancy

With smoking confirmed to cause cancer, expect a loss in life expectancy of up to 14 years depending on the amount smoked daily and the number of years that someone has smoked.

This is a huge number and represents the extreme effect of smoking on health. On average, smoking costs the smoker somewhere between 8 and 10 years of life. This number doesn’t represent any quality of life lost due to complications of smoking such as emphysema which can take more years off of your life expectancy.

Obesity and Life Expectancy

Obesity has a similar impact on life expectancy. For people aged 40-45, the loss of life expectancy from being obese is 8 to 10 years. An observational study over over 57 studies by researchers published in the Lancet, compared the connection between body-mass index (or BMI) and life expectancy and reported the link.

How “Big” are These Problems?

So how many people are affected by smoking or obesity? According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 20% of adults in the U.S. smoke. While smoking has declined sharply recently, that still represents a large number of the population.

For obesity, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that over one-third of people in the U.S. are obese. When you combine that number of people, not accounting for those who are both obese and smoking, there's a lot of life left to live. So what can you do to get those years back?

How to Add Years to Your Life

By simply not smoking and or even losing just 5 to 10% of your body weight you can improve your life and add years to your life.

Even if you're a smoker and/or obese, eating 7 or more portions of fruits and vegetables a day can lower your risk of dying prematurely by 42%. Another way to add more years to your life is to get adequate exercise. The NIH says you can add 4.5 years onto your life if you exercise regularly, at least 30 minutes a day or 150 minutes a week with leisurely activity. Another way to add more years to your life is to find your happy. Just having a positive attitude can add years to your life as one study of centenarians found. Just the same those who keep themselves active socially also add years to life. By combining some of these life boosters together you may be able to truly add back 8-10 years to your life. 

Here are three more ways you can add more years to your life:

Sources

Prospective Studies Collaboration. Body-mass index and cause-specific mortality in 900 000 adults: collaborative analyses of 57 prospective studies. The Lancet, Volume 373, Issue 9669, Pages 1083 - 1096, 28 March 2009.

Centers for Disease Control. Prevalence of Current Smoking among Adults Aged 18 Years and Over: United States, 1997–June 2008.

National Institutes of Health. Medline Plus. Obesity.

National Institutes of Health. Medline Plus. Smoking.

Continue Reading