Background: While many studies have examined differences between body mass index (BMI) categories in terms of mortality risk and health-related quality of life (HRQL), little is known about the effect of body weight on health expectancy. We examined life expectancy (LE), health-adjusted life expectancy (HALE), and proportion of LE spent in nonoptimal (or poor) health by BMI category for the Canadian adult population (age ≥ 20).
Methods: Respondents to the National Population Health Survey (NPHS) were followed for mortality outcomes from 1994 to 2009. Our study population at baseline (n=12,478) was 20 to 100 years old with an average age of 47. LE was produced by building abridged life tables by sex and BMI category using data from the NPHS and the Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System. HALE was estimated using the Health Utilities Index from the Canadian Community Health Survey as a measure of HRQL. The contribution of HRQL to loss of healthy life years for each BMI category was also assessed using two methods: by calculating differences between LE and HALE proportional to LE and by using a decomposition technique to separate out mortality and HRQL contributions to loss of HALE.
Results: At age 20, for both sexes, LE is significantly lower in the underweight and obesity class 2+ categories, but significantly higher in the overweight category when compared to normal weight (obesity class 1 was nonsignificant). HALE at age 20 follows these same associations and is significantly lower for class 1 obesity in women. Proportion of life spent in nonoptimal health and decomposition of HALE demonstrate progressively higher losses of healthy life associated with lowered HRQL for BMI categories in excess of normal weight.
Conclusions: Although being in the overweight category for adults may be associated with a gain in life expectancy as compared to normal weight adults, overweight individuals also experience a higher proportion of these years of life in poorer health. Due to the descriptive nature of this study, further research is needed to explore the causal mechanisms which explain these results, including the important differences we observed between sexes and within obesity subcategories.