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Being too thin more deadly than being too fat

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Being underweight is deadlier than being overweight

It's been said that "you can never be too rich or too thin", but new research suggests you can – at least pertaining to the “too thin” part.

Researchers involved in a recent study, published in the March 28 issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health, found that people who are clinically underweight are at greater risk for death than their obese counterparts.

After reviewing more than 50 previous studies, the researchers concluded that excessively underweight individuals were almost twice as likely to die, compared with those of normal weight.

While the battle against obesity has been the main focus of media headlines related to health, study leader Dr. Joel Ray of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto says that we have an obligation to make sure we aren’t “creating an epidemic of underweight adults and fetuses” who are otherwise at a healthy weight.

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For the study, researchers analyzed and followed up with patients in the study for a period of five years or more. Researchers focused on links between the participants BMI, or body mass index, and death rates from any cause. They also compared mortality rates with the weight patterns of newborns and stillborns.

Among patients of all ages, those who were underweight with a BMI of 18.5 or lower, had a 1.8 times higher risk for death, compared with those who had a normal BMI between 18.5 and 25.9.

Those who were obese with a BMI between 30 and 34.9, however, were at a 1.2 higher risk for death, compared with those who were at a healthy weight. And those who were excessively obese with a BMI of 35 or more had a 1.3 times higher risk of dying.

When it comes to the battle of the bulge, Dr. Ray pointed out the importance of maintaining a normal weight with respect to fighting the epidemic of obesity. In other words, he said that if the focus is more on the problem of excess body fat, then it’s important to “replace BMI with a proper measure, like waist circumference."

As for being underweight, factors associated with it include poverty, malnourishment, mental problems, smoking and drug or alcohol use.

SOURCE: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, J-shapedness: an often missed, often miscalculated relation: the example of weight and mortality. Sisso Cao, Rahim Moineddin, Marcelo L Urquia, Fahad Razak, Joel G Ray. March 2014 (DOI: 10.1136/jech-2013-203439)