Who’s Afraid of a Little Flab?

Lest anyone get too carried away with the current wave of anti-obesity hysterics, Harvard economists David Cutler and Edward Glaeser, along with University of Michigan professor of medicine Allison Rosen, have released a working paper titled “Is the US Population Behaving Healthier?” where they find that Americans are getting healthier in spite of a little extra flab.  From the abstract:

Despite substantial increases in obesity in the past three decades, the overall population risk profile is healthier now than it was formerly.  For the population aged 25-74, the 10 year probability of death fell from 9.8 percent in 1971-75 to 8.4 percent in 1999-2002.  Among the population aged 55-74, the 10 year risk of death fell from 25.7 percent to 21.7 percent.  The largest contributors to these changes were the reduction in smoking and better control of blood pressure. Increased obesity increased risk, but not by as large a quantitative amount.  In the future, however, increased obesity may play a larger role than continued reductions in smoking.  We estimate that a continuation of trends over the past three decades to the next three decades might offset about a third of the behavioral improvements witnessed in recent years.

So when you order that second cheeseburger, be sure to ask for a side of ACE inhibitors.