Women’s life expectancy may be related to weight maintenance

life expectancyCC: Tiago Muraro at Unsplash

A recent observational study from Europe has revealed that women who stay close to the weight they were at aged 20 are likely to live longer. At first glance, it seems that the study’s findings suggest that maintaining your weight around the same levels as when you were 20 is a panacea for greater life expectancy. But, like most observational studies, this one tells us very little. And its findings may not apply to modern day females.

Why is there a focus on women’s life expectancy only?

That wasn’t the aim of the original study. Initially, the researchers wanted to find out why the rise in life expectancy worldwide had plateaued. To analyze this, they looked at some basic biometrics of several thousand men and women. The aim was to see if life expectancy correlated with weight, height, exercise, and some other factors.

The headlines focus mainly on women as that particular finding applied to women only. So if women hovered within 1.5 stones of the weight they were age 20, they were far more likely to reach 90 than those who didn’t. Those findings didn’t apply to men as much.

Interestingly, men who engaged in 90 minutes or more of physical activity each day were more likely to reach 90 than their female counterparts who did the same. However, it looks as though the term physical activities was quite broad, making that finding difficult to pick apart.

What does this mean for the women of today?

It would be easy to argue that this study reveals absolutely nothing for the women of today. First, the women who are 90 today probably had a much healthier weight aged 20 than the women who will be 90 in 70 years time. It’s no big secret that obesity has risen sharply throughout developed nations, which means that sticking to your age 20 weight possibly isn’t the most sensible idea for some modern women.

Additionally, we lead very different lifestyles. Although the tide has turned in our favor in terms of antibiotics, reproductive health, and diagnostics, we drink, smoke, and eat more. Life is generally more manic, our exposure to pollutants is greater than ever, and substance abuse is more common. As this is an observational study, it hasn’t stratified the results for influencing factors. Our sharp shifts in lifestyle habits could mean it’s impossible to apply these results to modern day women.

So why has life expectancy plateaued?

That’s a difficult one to answer conclusively, although it’s easy to throw theories into the mix. Our rapidly altering lifestyles probably play a big role. With diabetes, age-related cancers, and mental health crises on the rise, the average life expectancy of any population is likely to steady at some stage.

It’s also worth noting that the medical world has made a tremendous number of advances in a short period of time. Similarly, workers don’t operate in overly dangerous conditions. Living standards are better, and (despite all the diabetes) we don’t perform too badly on the nutrition front compared to, say, those who lived a century ago. Access to antibiotic, consistent food sources and employment laws that don’t allow us to send children up chimneys and down mines have probably brought those of us in developed nations up to an optimal life expectancy standard. That doesn’t mean we can keep pushing it further.

As a final note, if you do have a healthy weight age 20 then try to keep close to it whether you’re male or female. It won’t guarantee that you’ll reach your 90s, but it can help stave off some of the chronic and autoimmune diseases that scupper your chances of doing so.

About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.