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N Engl J Med. 1999 Oct 7;341(15):1097-105.

Body-mass index and mortality in a prospective cohort of U.S. adults.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology and Surveillance Research, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, GA 30329, USA.



Body-mass index (the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters) is known to be associated with overall mortality. We investigated the effects of age, race, sex, smoking status, and history of disease on the relation between body-mass index and mortality.


In a prospective study of more than 1 million adults in the United States (457,785 men and 588,369 women), 201,622 deaths occurred during 14 years of follow-up. We examined the relation between body-mass index and the risk of death from all causes in four subgroups categorized according to smoking status and history of disease. In healthy people who had never smoked, we further examined whether the relation varied according to race, cause of death, or age. The relative risk was used to assess the relation between mortality and body-mass index.


The association between body-mass index and the risk of death was substantially modified by smoking status and the presence of disease. In healthy people who had never smoked, the nadir of the curve for body-mass index and mortality was found at a body-mass index of 23.5 to 24.9 in men and 22.0 to 23.4 in women. Among subjects with the highest body-mass indexes, white men and women had a relative risk of death of 2.58 and 2.00, respectively, as compared with those with a body-mass index of 23.5 to 24.9. Black men and women with the highest body-mass indexes had much lower risks of death (1.35 and 1.21), which did not differ significantly from 1.00. A high body-mass index was most predictive of death from cardiovascular disease, especially in men (relative risk, 2.90; 95 percent confidence interval, 2.37 to 3.56). Heavier men and women in all age groups had an increased risk of death.


The risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, or other diseases increases throughout the range of moderate and severe overweight for both men and women in all age groups. The risk associated with a high body-mass index is greater for whites than for blacks.

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