Thursday, March 17, 2005


There's a startling new report in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine which claims that within the next 50 years, obesity will shorten the average life expectancy by two to five years.

Now reading through the article, they've already made the requisite connection with Social Security, which is good. Here I thought I was going to be innovative. Oh well. But it is a good question. Skeptics say that even if the average life expectancy is lowered by rampant obesity, it will be more than countered by medical advances in the same period.

But it's already started, the report contends. It says that if obesity had been at "normal" levels in the recent past, then the average life expectancy would be four to nine months higher than the current record high of 77.6 years. As a mathematician, I guess that says to me that the skeptics are essentially right. Though life expectancy is lower than it would be without obesity being so rampant, it's still higher than it's ever been, indicating that there are other factors which are more than balancing out the variable of obesity.

But still, I wonder if the Social Security actuaries are using too rosy an outlook for life expectancy in their calculations. Because even if medical measures more than balance out the obesity, and the life expectancy continues to rise, it certainly would not be as sharp or dramatic a rise.