Light up or eat up?

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Pop quiz for teenagers: Are you more likely to die from smoking more than 10 cigarettes a day or from being obese? According to a new study from the British Medical Journal, it’s a tie.

Swedish researchers studied health records of 45,920 men drafted by the Swedish army in 1969-70 at an average age of 18 years, 8 months. Then they consulted Sweden’s national cause of death registry and found that 2,897 had died as of Sept. 1, 2007.

It turned out that compared with having a healthy body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9, being overweight (BMI of 25 to 29.9) increased the risk of death by 35%, and being obese (BMI above 30) boosted it by a factor of 2.25. Compared with nonsmokers, light smokers were 55% more likely to die and heavy smokers increased their risk of death by a factor of 2.18.


Not surprisingly, those most likely to die were obese heavy smokers -- their risk was nearly five-fold higher than for nonsmokers of healthy weight. The researchers, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and Uppsala University Hospital, had expected to find smoking and excess weight ganged up to make both more deadly, but the interaction wasn’t statistically significant.