The binge eating and drinking we do over the holidays may be killing us, say health researchers.
And they mean that literally.
The overeating and overdrinking that typically takes place between the middle of November and New Year’s is a prime driver of the obesity epidemic, says a new report in the British Medical Journal.
And that epidemic is driving medical costs through the roof, damaging quality of life, and wiping years off our lives, say medical scientists.
It’s a report that may find particular resonance with readers as they stagger back into the office, bloated and hungover, after the annual six-week marathon of eating and drinking known as ‘the holidays.’
Multiple studies of average weight gains during each holiday season “reported consistent increases in weight of 0.4 kg to 0.9 kg,” or roughly one to two pounds, say researchers in the December BMJ, after a survey of the medical literature. What’s worse, studies have found that most people keep the pounds they pack on each year between Thanksgiving and New Year, they add. “Although these gains are small [per year],” they conclude, “over 10 years they would lead to a 5-10 kg [roughly 10 to 20 pounds] increase in body weight, which is sufficient to drive the obesity epidemic.”
The report was produced by researchers from Britain’s University of Birmingham and Loughborough University, who explored techniques for discouraging people from overeating.
A study reported earlier in the New England Journal of Medicine, which tracked the weight of nearly 3,000 people using wifi-enabled bathroom scales, found sharp rises in body weight around the holidays both in the U.S. and in other developed countries.
The World Health Organization says obesity now kills nearly three million people a year around the world, and is “is one of today’s most blatantly visible — yet most neglected — public health problems.”
An astonishing 40% of the U.S. adult population is now clinically obese, as well as 19% of children, says the U.S. Government’s Center for Disease Control. Those suffering from obesity are more likely to have a lower quality of life and to die sooner than those of a healthy weight, say medical researchers. Being obese raises your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, the CDC adds.
Medical costs for the obese are on average nearly $4,000 a year more than for those of normal weight, says a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
Clinical obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index above 30. BMI, a widely-used medical measure of body weight, is calculated as your weight in kilograms, divided by your height in meters squared. Free online calculators allow anyone to calculate their BMI so long as they know their height and weight.
We put on weight over the holidays largely thanks to social context and pressure, say researchers. We typically eat unhealthy food, we eat too much of it, we drink too much, and we don’t do enough exercise to burn off the calories. Just eating in a big social gathering, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, can lead you to eat more. Cynics may add that the stress of having to deal with other family members may also drive people to eat — and drink — more.
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Brett Arends is a MarketWatch columnist. Follow him on Twitter @BrettArends.
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