"If smoking continues to decline at past rates and obesity continues to increase at past rates, obesity will win this horse race, and over time, the increasing effects of obesity will outweigh the declines in smoking," she said.
"Clearly, these are two trends that are important in influencing public health," said Dr. David Meltzer, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center. "We've known that obesity has big health consequences and smoking definitely matters, and it's important, though perhaps not shocking, to learn that the increase in obesity is more than the decrease in smoking."
But, he pointed out, these findings only hold true if behaviors don't change. "One does need to remember that behaviors can change. There was a time when smoking looked like it would just go up and up, but then it declined," Meltzer noted.
Stewart and her colleagues acknowledged that their analysis is based on past trends continuing unchanged, but noted that the information is useful for showing where medical interventions can have the best value.
"We don't want to be just another alarmist paper," Stewart said. "We don't feel that there's no hope. Even modest weight loss and cutting down on smoking can result in improved health."
Learn more about the health effects of obesity from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
SOURCES: Susan Stewart, Ph.D., research specialist in aging, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, Mass.; David Meltzer, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor, medicine, University of Chicago Medical Center, and associated
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