Life-Years Lost Because of Smoking and Obesity
Historically, smoking and obesity have had the greatest impact on disease and mortality rates in the United States. However, the relative importance of the two factors, has evolved significantly in the past two decades.
A 2010 paper by researchers from Columbia University and the City College of New York, “Trends in Quality-Adjusted Life-Years Lost Contributed by Smoking and Obesity,” looks at the change in quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) based on a large sample of U.S. adults from 1993 to 2008. QALYs are measured on a qualitative basis, based on individuals’ perception of their quality of life.
The paper’s key findings include:
- During the years studied, the proportion of smokers among U.S. adults declined from 22.7% to 18.5%.
- During the same period, the proportion of patients who were obese increased from 14.5% to 26.7%.
- Smoking accounted for a relatively stable rate of 0.0436 QALYs lost per population.
- QALYs lost for obesity more than doubled, increasing from 0.0204 in 1993 to 0.0464 in 2008, surpassing smoking.
- Smoking had a larger impact on mortality than disease, while obesity had a greater effect on disease than mortality.
The authors states that the methodology employed in the paper can be extended to the national, state and local levels for health disparities examinations and health care progress evaluations.
Tags: medicine, obesity
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task — for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the study titled "Trends in Quality-Adjusted Life-Years Lost Contributed by Smoking and Obesity."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the issue-related New York Times article titled "Obesity Rates Hit Plateau in U.S., Data Suggest."
- If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.