ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Climate Change Could Sting Allergy, Asthma Sufferers
Obesity May Raise Kids' Allergy Risk
Asthmatics Who Quit Smoking May Reverse Lung Damage
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Relaxation Tapes or Mozart Lower Blood Pressure
No Verdict Yet on Grape Seed Extract vs. Breast Cancer
Ginkgo No Shield Against Alzheimer's
ANIMAL CARE
Safe Toys for Dogs
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch
BONES & JOINTS
Bone Loss Stable on Restricted Calorie Diet
Improved Hip Implants Can Last 20 Years
Postmenopausal Women With Breast Cancer Face Joint Issues
CANCER
Omega-3 May Safely Treat Precancerous Bowel Polyps
Family History Key Player in Brain Cancer Risk
More Americans Urged to Get Cancer Screenings
CAREGIVING
Mom's Smoking May Lead to SIDS
Bariatric Surgery Centers Don't Deliver Better Outcomes
Critically Ill Patients Lack Vitamin D
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Support Network May Play Role in Benefits of Drinking
Salt Boosts Blood Pressure in High-Risk Patients
An Apple a Day May Help Keep Heart Disease Away
COSMETIC
With Psoriasis, the Internet May Offer Hope
Get Sugared!.... Its a sweet choice for hair removal
Gum Chewing May Cut Craving for Snacks
DENTAL, ORAL
Sports Drinks May Be Tough on Teeth
Dental Implants Need More Work Than Root Canals
Gum Disease Treatment Doesn't Cut Preterm Birth Risk
DIABETES
Brown Rice Bests White for Diabetes Prevention
Coffee, Tea Might Stave Off Diabetes
Americans Consuming More Sugary Beverages
DIET, NUTRITION
HELP TO LOSE WEIGHT ON A LOW CAL BUDGET
Coffee Drinkers Might Live Longer
Eating Vegan or Raw-Vegan at Regular Restaurants
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Hairspray Exposure Ups Risk for Birth Defect in Sons
Artificial Light Linked to Prostate Cancer Risk
Exposure to 9/11 Fumes Tied to Chronic Headaches
EYE CARE, VISION
Protein Might One Day Prevent Blindness
High Temps Degrade Contact Lens Solution: Study
Just Like Skin, Eyes Can 'Burn' in Strong Sun
FITNESS
Consciousness Helps the Mind and Body Work Together
FDA Mandates New Warnings for Botox
Diet, Exercise May Slow Kidney Disease Progression
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Bowel Prep Harder on Women Than Men
Soothing Imagery May Help Rid Some Kids of Stomach Pain
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
GENERAL HEALTH
Week of Historic Senate Hearings on Integrative Medicine May Open New Doors
Maximize Your Run
A Honey of a Sinusitis Treatment
HEAD & NECK
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Magnet Therapy May Ease Hard-to-Treat Depression
The Internet Is Becoming One-Stop Shopping for Health Help
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
HEARING
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Fructose Boosts Blood Pressure, Studies Find
Whole Grains Lower Risk of Heart Failure
Toothbrushing May Stave Off Heart Woes
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
The HPV Vaccine: Preventative Medicine or Human Sacrifice?
Swine Flu Now Reported in All 50 States
Older Adults May Have Some Immunity to Swine Flu
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
3 Home Habits Help Youngsters Stay Slim
Folic Acid Reduces Infant Heart Defects
Exercise Helps Reduce Falls in Young and Old
MEN'S HEALTH
Varicose Veins May Mask Larger Problem
Physical Activity May Prolong Survival After Colon Cancer
Sunlight May Help Protect Men From Kidney Cancer
MENTAL HEALTH
Most Depressed Teens Don't Get Treatment
Reminiscing Helps Build Emotional Strength
Bullying Seems to Affect Kids Years Later
PAIN
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
Expectant Mom's Exercise Keeps Newborn's Birth Weight Down
Exercise As Well As Acupuncture, May Ease Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
SENIORS
Tai Chi and Qigong Offer Many Health Benefits: Review
Older People at Greater Risk of Swine Flu Death
For a Healthier Retirement, Work a Little
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
Exercising Throat Muscles May Relieve Sleep Apnea
Lose Weight, Sleep Apnea May Improve
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Natural Relief for Painful Menstrual Cramps
Being Active an Hour a Day Puts Brakes on Weight Gain
Simple Carbs Pose Heart Risk for Women
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Health Gains From Lowered Smoking Rates in Jeopardy

(HealthDay News) -- The overall health of the U.S. population has improved over the past three decades, largely because people have quit smoking in droves, but a new study suggests those gains might soon be wiped out if the rising obesity rates among Americans don't level off or drop.

If current trends in both smoking and obesity continue unchanged, the average life expectancy in America will be reduced by almost nine months, according to the study, which is published in the Dec. 3 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

On the other hand, the researchers calculated what would happen if everyone in America maintained a normal weight and no one smoked. If these two behavior changes were to occur, Americans would gain nearly four years of life.

"Although overall life expectancy is likely to increase, when we look at these two unhealthy behaviors we see the potential that it could have risen this much higher without obesity and smoking," said study author Susan Stewart, a research specialist in aging at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass.

"Even small improvements in these risk factors can make a difference," she added.

It's estimated that obesity is responsible for between 5 percent and 15 percent of deaths each year in the United States, according to background information in the study. Smoking still accounts for about 18 percent of deaths each year.

Along with their effect on mortality, obesity and smoking can both have a large impact on quality of life as well.

For the current study, the researchers used data from three nationally representative surveys that included data from as far back as 1971 through 2006.

The researchers projected that past trends in obesity and smoking would continue, which meant that obesity rates would continue to increase, while smoking rates would continue to drop. The researchers estimated that if current trends continue, nearly half of the U.S. population will be obese by 2020.

"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."


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 faculty member, department of economics, Harris School, University of Chicago; Dec. 3, 2009, New England Journal of Medicine Published on: December 02, 2009