(HealthDay News) – Previous studies may have underestimated the impact of the obesity epidemic on U.S. mortality, according to a study published online Aug. 15 in the American Journal of Public Health.

Ryan K. Masters, PhD, from Columbia University in New York City, and colleagues examined data from 19 waves (1986–2006) of the National Health Interview Survey linked to individual mortality records at the National Death Index to assess age and cohort patterns in the population-level association between obesity and U.S. adult mortality.

The researchers found that between 1986 and 2006 the estimated percent of adult deaths associated with overweight and obesity was 5% for black men and 15.6% for white men, and 26.8% and 21.7% for black and white women, respectively. The authors noted a substantially stronger association between obesity and mortality risk at older ages than had been found in previous research, as well as a rising percent of mortality attributable to obesity across birth cohorts.

“Methods that are attentive to cohort variation in obesity prevalence and age variation in the effect of obesity on mortality risk suggest that obesity significantly shapes U.S. mortality levels, placing it at the forefront of concern for public health action,” the authors write.

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