Obesity and U.S. Adult Mortality: A Bigger Picture of the Growing Threat

Ryan K. Masters, Columbia University
Daniel A. Powers, University of Texas at Austin
Bruce Link, Columbia University
Eric N. Reither, Utah State University
Andrew E. Burger, Utah State University

The number of obesity-related deaths in the United States is unknown, and the question has spurred an ongoing debate. On one side, obesity has been blamed for a large and growing share of premature deaths in the United States. On the other side, estimates of U.S. obesity-related mortality have been said to be exaggerated. Studies have produced widely divergent estimates of obesity’s effect on U.S. adult mortality due in large part to limited data and inconsistent methods. In this paper we suggest that extant research on U.S. obesity-related mortality is limited because it has not fully considered the temporal dimensions of the obesity epidemic. We use linked survey-mortality data spanning 21 years, 1986-2006, to incorporate age, period, and cohort dimensions of the U.S. obesity-mortality relationship. Results show that obesity accounts for a substantial share of U.S. adult mortality, and that this share is growing larger across birth cohorts.

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Presented in Session 169: Adult Mortality II: Behaviors and Diseases