"In terms of life-expectancy, we feel being overweight is as bad as cigarette smoking," said lead author Steven Grover, professor of medicine at McGill University in Canada.

What is more, the study demonstrates that as obese and overweight individuals may also develop diabetes or cardiovascular disease earlier in life, this excess weight can rob them of nearly two decades of healthy life.

"Our team has developed a computer model to help doctors and their patients better understand how excess body weight contributes to reduced life expectancy and premature development of heart disease and diabetes," Grover said.

The researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (from years 2003 to 2010) from almost 4,000 individuals.

Their findings estimated that individuals who were very obese could lose up to eight years of life, obese individuals could lose up to six years, and those who were overweight could lose up to three years.

In addition, healthy life-years lost were two to four times higher for overweight and obese individuals compared to those who had a healthy weight, defined as 18.5-25 body mass index (BMI).

"The pattern is clear - the more an individual weighs and the younger their age, the greater the effect on their health," Grover added.

The study was published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.

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