By Richard Lenti
Call it baby fat, love handles, being big boned. Whatever pet name you give it, those euphemisms for being overweight may translate into keeping you alive. According to a surprising new study, people who are moderately overweight are living longer than their skinny or obese counterparts.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at nearly 100 studies from around the world that included data on nearly 3 million people and more than 270,000 deaths.
While moderate to severe obesity were both associated with a higher risk of death (18% and 29% respectively), those with a body mass index (BMI) rated overweight had a 6% lower risk of death compared to those with a normal BMI.
BMI is calculated using a formula that divides a person’s weight by their height.
A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered to be a normal weight. An adult 5’9“ tall weighing between 125-168 pounds would fit into that BMI category.
A 5’9”adult weighing between 169-202 lbs. would have a BMI of 25-29.9 and be considered overweight.
The same adult weighing over 203 lbs. would have a BMI over 30 and would be considered obese.
The most recent data shows that 40% adult men and nearly 30% of adult women in the U.S. are overweight. One out of every three adult Americans are obese.
Surprisingly, people classified as slightly obese had the same lower mortality rate as people who are considered overweight. The researchers think that may be because they received early and better medical care.
“Possible explanations have included earlier presentation of heavier patients, greater likelihood of receiving optimal medical treatment, cardio-protective metabolic effects of increased body fat, and benefits of higher metabolic reserves,” they write.
But in a commentary also appearing in JAMA, Drs. Steven Heymsfield and Dr. William Cefalu, of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge questioned if a person’s BMI can adequately convey a person’s mortality risk.
They point out that body mass index is known to be an imperfect predictor of metabolic risk, and that people may be living longer because physicians are more aggressive in managing risk factors in overweight or obese patients.
“Substantial declines in cardiovascular disease risk factors have been reported among persons with obesity, more so than in those with normal weight,” they wrote. “New pharmacological therapies and invasive treatments for existing disease may prolong survival and, when combined with public health measures, may account for the weakening of associations between obesity and mortality observed over time.”
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