Since smoking is a leading cause of avoidable deaths, it’s welcome news that the UK is slowly stubbing out its nicotine habit. But if new research from the University of Glasgow is anything to go by, we’ve extinguished one toxic habit for another equally deadly vice: overeating. Since 2014, obesity and excess body fat appear to have contributed to more deaths than smoking, according to fresh research published in the journal BMC Public Health.
Between 2003 and 2017, the percentage of deaths caused by smoking appear to have decreased from 23.1 per cent to 19.4 per cent. At the same time, deaths attributable to obesity and excess body fat look to have edged their way from 17.9 per cent to 23.1 per cent. The year 2014 is thought to be the crossover where a greater number of people died due to a bulging waistline for the first time in history.
How can we tell? Scientists from the University of Glasgow looked at data spanning 192,239 adults across England and Scotland who were 50 years old on average. Their height and weight were measured by trained staff, and they were asked if they’d ever regularly smoked. By combining this data with scientific estimates of the risk of dying from smoking or obesity and excess body fat, they could calculate an estimate for the number of deaths attributable to each.
While obesity and excess body fat likely accounted for more deaths among adults 45 and over, the researchers said, smoking still seems to be a bigger killer among adults aged 44 or younger. Worryingly, men were disproportionately affected across the board. Deaths due to excess timber are thought to have increased by 31 per cent for men of all ages between 2003 and 2017, compared to just 25.9 per cent for women. And deaths caused by lighting up decreased by 14.9 per cent for men, compared to 18.1 per cent for women.
“The increase in estimated deaths due to obesity and excess body fat is likely to be due to their contributions to cancer and cardiovascular disease,” said the study’s corresponding author Jill Pell. “Our findings suggest that the public health and policy interventions aimed at reducing the prevalence of smoking have been successful and that national strategies to address obesity and excess body fat, particularly focusing on middle-aged and older age groups and men, should be a public health priority.”
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