Obesity and the Loss of Life: A Comparison between the US and Mexico

Monteverde, Malena, Beatriz Novak, Kenya Noronha, and Alberto Palloni
Working paper no. 2007-12


High and increasing levels of obesity in the US and Mexico could compromise future gains in life expectancy for these populations. Excess mortality due to obesity has been investigated in the US but not in Latin America where high prevalence and the rapid growth of obesity are frequently combined with frail socio-economic conditions. The aim of this study is to measure loss in life expectancy due to obesity in Mexico and the US, taking advantage of the existence of comparable databases for both countries (HRS 2000 & 2004 for the US and MHAS 2000 & 2003 for Mexico). Our results show larger losses in life expectancy due to excess body fat among older people in Mexico (more than four years of life expectancy at age 60) than in the US (around 2 years). However, when analyzing differences in the effect among different socio-economic strata, we observe greater gaps between low-educated and high-educated people in the US than in Mexico. Remarkably, despite the fact that the relative probability of suffering obesity-related disease among individuals with highest BMI is larger for the US elderly, the relative risk of dying conditional on experiencing these diseases is higher in Mexico.