2013-10-25

Your Fat Is Making You 10 Years Older

There are plenty of health risks of being very overweight, but they're easy to ignore. What if people realized they're actually "aging" faster?

Obesity can lead to all sorts of health problems—Type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are some of the more common issues. But increased "risk" of a disease doesn't always jolt people out of their habits. Here's a more stark conclusion that might: Obesity can also actually age you 10 years. And if you're a young adult between 10 and 19, it could be as much as a whopping 20 years.

These statistics come from Practice Fusion, a large electronic health record company with a data set of millions of clinical records (made anonymous for this analysis). They found that an obese 10-year-old has the same number of co-morbidities (or concurrent conditions like Type-2 Diabetes) as an average 30-year-old. A 40-year-old has the same number of co-morbidities as a 50-year-old.

"Our data set is really unique in that it is so large, and updated in real-time every night," says Lindsay Jorgensen, a data scientist at Practice Fusion. "It usually takes years to collect data, and it's outdated by the time you use it."

Jorgensen and the Practice Fusion data science team are always on the hunt for trends in their data set. They decided to focus on obesity because of two factors: a pair of obesity-fighting drugs were recently released, and this past summer, the American Medical Association declared obesity to be an actual disease.

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In spite of all that, only 12% of people with an obese body mass index in Practice Fusion's data set were given a diagnosis of obesity by their doctors. "Doctors aren't necessarily viewing this as a disease. It's more a physical characteristic in their minds," says Jorgensen. (There is such a thing as being healthily obese, without any of the normal co-morbidities).

She is hopeful that statistics like the ones discussed here—as well as other pieces of research showing how obesity has a detrimental effect on overall health—will change how doctors view obesity.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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