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Health Risk Factors Cut 4-5 Years from Life Expectancy

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Men who smoke, are overweight, and have high blood pressure and blood sugar can expect to live an average of 4.9 years less than the average American, while women with these often-preventable health problems are likely to live 4.1 years less, according to researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health.

HealthDay News reported March 23 that researchers were able to estimate the number of deaths that would have been prevented if these risk factors were not present. Researcher Majid Ezzati and colleagues found that these four health problems accounted for nearly 20 percent of the difference in life expectancy observed in populations across the U.S.

Ezzati said the mortality impact was especially great among poorer Americans, who lost between six and seven years from their life expectancy in some cases. Ezzati said that prevention should be targeted at the populations most at risk, such as black Americans living in the rural South. “When we talk about disease prevention and saving lives we shouldn't just talk about the numbers, we should talk about whose lives you are saving,” he said.

The study appears in the March 2010 issue of the journal PLoS Medicine.

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