Penn: U.S. Obesity Epidemic Contributes to Its Poor International Ranking in Life Expectancy

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Media Contact:Jacquie Posey | | 215-898-6460September 30, 2011


PHILADELPHIA -- The United States has the highest prevalence of obesity, measured by body mass index, and one of the lowest life expectancies among high-income countries.  A new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania directly links America’s high obesity rate to the country’s lower longevity ranking compared to other high-income countries. 

Samuel Preston, professor of demography and sociology at Penn, and Andrew Stokes, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Arts and Sciences’ Population Studies Center Graduate Group in Demography, are co-authors of the study, "Contribution of Obesity to International Differences in Life Expectancy."

Their findings, to be published in the November American Journal of Public Health, appear online under AJPH’s First Look at         

"The obesity epidemic is clearly having a major impact on American mortality,” Preston said. 

The study demonstrated that obesity reduced U.S. life expectancy at age 50 in 2006 as much as 1.54 years for women and by 1.85 years for men. In the researchers’ baseline scenario, removing the effects of obesity reduced the U.S. shortfall by 42 percent for women and 67 percent for men, relative to countries with higher life expectancies. 

The study’s authors reported, “These effects have been more severe in the United States than in other countries. Two key features of the U.S. distribution of BMI that distinguish it from comparison countries include an unusually high rate of obesity in younger age groups and significantly higher rates of severe obesity.”

The AJPH article is available from Patricia Warin at 202-777-2511 or