Obesity could play a role in more American deaths than previously thought, according to a new report in American Journal of Public Health. In the report, a group of American researchers analyzed 19 waves of data from the National Health Interview Survey, which is administered by the US Census Bureau. The survey data spanned from 1986 to 2006, the last year available. Previous research has led many experts to peg American premature deaths related to obesity at 5 percent. The new study indicated that number should be just over 18 percent. “Obesity has dramatically worse health consequences than some recent reports have led us to believe,” said Ryan Masters, a sociologist from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “We expect that obesity will be responsible for an increasing share of deaths in the United States and perhaps even lead to declines in US life expectancy.” Study authors assert premature obesity-related deaths will continue to rise in the wake of the obesity epidemic that began in the 1980s across all age groups. “A 5-year-old growing up today is living in an environment where obesity is much more the norm than was the case for a 5-year-old a generation or two ago. Drink sizes are bigger, clothes are bigger, and greater numbers of a child’s peers are obese,” said co-author Bruce Link, a professor of epidemiology and sociomedical sciences at Columbia. “And once someone is obese, it is very difficult to undo. So it stands to reason that we won’t see the worst of the epidemic until the current generation of children grows old.” In older white male Americans, the rising toll of obesity is already evident. Those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 to less than 35 represented about 3.5 percent of deaths for individuals born between 1915 and 1919. For those born a decade later, it represented about 5 percent of deaths. For those born a decade after that, obesity had a role in more than 7 percent of deaths. Study researchers said their report is the first to account for differences in age, generation, sex and race in analyzing Americans’ risk for obesity-related death. “Past research in this area lumped together all Americans, but obesity prevalence and its effect on mortality differ substantially based on your race or ethnicity, how old you are, and when you were born,” Masters said. “It’s important for policy-makers to understand that different groups experience obesity in different ways.” A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found Americans living in the South and Midwest are more likely to be obese than other states. The telephone survey revealed over 30 percent of adults were obese in 13 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. In 2011, twelve states met that criterion. The CDC announced more optimistic news last week, saying another of its surveys found drops in pre-schooler obesity rates among 18 states.