Could a little extra weight be healthy? - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Could a little extra weight be healthy?

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Being slightly overweight may actually help you live longer, according to a recent study.  Researchers looked at data on nearly three million adults around the world.  They compared the body mass index, a measurement of weight in relation to height, to the risk of death.  The study found people with a little extra weight had a six percent lower risk of dying compared to people considered "normal" weight.

The comprehensive study confirmed that obese people tend to die earlier than people of normal weight.  On the other hand, it also found that people with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 30, had a lower risk of dying than people of normal weight.  However, this research is not an excuse to pack on the pounds.  People whose BMI was 35 or more had more than triple the risk of dying, according to the study.  And the research looked at only death, not chronic medical conditions.

"Because this bias against weight has been so prevalent, it's really been unquestioned, and I think this concept that thin is healthy and fat is not healthy is clearly not true," said Michelle May, a physician and author of "Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat."  Some thin people exercise excessively and don't eat a balanced diet, and there are people in the overweight and obese categories who have good diets and are active, she said.

May said people need to focus on choices about eating and physical activity rather than be concerned about the numbers on a scale.  "I find it interesting that the reason they did this is because this is something that has shown up over and over again. It is challenging to shift a paradigm that has become so deeply entrenched, that being overweight by BMI category automatically puts you at high risk," she said.

Glenn Gaesser, author of "Big Fat Lies" and director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University says fat, fit people tend to be better off healthwise than thin people who are unfit.  This is suggesting that being fit is far more important than being thin.

The study authors say it's possible that overweight people live longer because they get better medical care and are tested for diabetes, heart problems and other diseases stemming from their weight. Heavier people might also be able to better survive infections or surgery.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  The report is drawing strong reaction in the medical community, among proponents who hail its findings and among critics, one of whom dismisses it as "rubbish."

 "Of course, a lot of people would like to hear that it's no problem that they are overweight or obese," said Walter Willett, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chair of the Harvard School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition. "It causes a lot of confusion that's completely unnecessary."  BMI is one of three numbers people should watch, according to Willett.

"It's also useful to look at weight change since age 20," he said. "That's going to primarily be fat. The third is your waistline. The vast majority of people will be best off if they do not increase their weight or waistline after age 20."  Not smoking, eating a high-quality and healthful diet, not being overweight and being physically active all contribute to a person's health, he said.

 

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