3 Reasons Why Being Overweight May Be Good For You
A new report in JAMA claims that being overweight may be good for you, and the study has many health experts up in arms. This is not the first time such a statement has been made, and so it seems to be a good time to review the idea that being overweight may be beneficial. However, don’t cancel your gym membership or load up on ice cream just yet.
One reason why being overweight may be good
According to the authors of the new study, which was conducted by researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics, people who are overweight (but not obese) are much less likely to die prematurely from any cause than individuals who are of normal weight. To arrive at this conclusion, they reviewed data from 97 studies, which involved more than 2.88 million people from around the globe and more than 270,000 deaths.
The researchers also established weight categories based on body mass index (BMI): normal weight, 18.5 to 24.99 BMI; overweight, 25 to 29.99 BMI, general obesity, 30+ BMI; grade 1 obesity, 30 to 34.99 BMI, and grades 2 and 3 obesity, 35 BMI and greater. They then compared the chances of dying of any cause between people of normal weight and the other categories. This is what they found:
- 6% less risk of dying if you are overweight
- 18% higher risk if you are obese (any category)
- 1-5% higher risk of dying if you are grade 1 obese
- 29% higher risk of dying if you are grade 2 or 3 obese
The backlash to these findings has come from experts around the world. Professor John Wass, vice-president of the Royal College of Physicians in the UK noted in a BBC News article that “Huge pieces of evidence go against this, countless other studies point in the other direction,” while renowned nutrition expert Dr. Walter Willett from the Harvard School of Public Health called it “an even greater pile of rubbish” than an earlier study conducted by the same team.
That team, headed by Katherine M. Flegal, PhD, explained that possible reasons for their findings may be “earlier presentation of heavier patients, greater likelihood of receiving optimal medical treatment, cardioprotective metabolic effects of increased body fat, and benefits of higher metabolic reserves.” These factors, as well as individual discrepancies noted in some of the studies used in this meta-analysis, seem to be good reasons to reconsider the findings of this study.
Reason Two: Another study published in August 2012 in JAMA reported that normal weight adults who have type 2 diabetes have a greater chance of dying than do individuals with the disease who are overweight or obese. This finding also seems to fly in the face of what is known about the health risks of being overweight, and especially since excess weight is a risk factor for diabetes.
However, Mercedes R. Carnethon, associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and her team made an interesting discovery. That discovery came when they evaluated data from five studies that involved more than 2,600 adults older than 40 who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or who were diagnosed during one of the studies. The range of follow-up in the studies was 9 to 28 years.
They found that the rates of deaths from all causes, cardiovascular, and non-cardiovascular causes were higher among people of normal weight than among those who were overweight or obese. This finding held true even after they adjusted for smoking, blood pressure, waist circumference, and cholesterol levels. Why?
Carnethon explained that people of normal weight are often overlooked by doctors when it comes to diabetes screening and so those who have the disease are missed even though they could be at high risk of dying from diabetes-related causes, such as cardiovascular disease. Genetic also could have a role in normal weight people who develop type 2 diabetes.
Reason Three. Despite attempts to find a third possible reason why being overweight could be beneficial, I could not find one. However, there are countless numbers of studies demonstrating the physical and emotional hazards of being overweight or obese, regardless of a person’s age or gender.
The health dangers of overweight and obesity begin in childhood and continue on through adolescence, pregnancy (with health hazards for both the mother and the child), middle age, and the senior years. Aside from the increased risk of developing heart disease, stroke, gallstones, diabetes, certain cancers, and a number of other serious health problems, excess weight can reduce quality of life.
Children and adults can be the focus of bullying and discrimination and experience depression and loss of self-esteem. Mobility can be limited, and being overweight or obese can make having other conditions, such as respiratory disease, gastrointestinal disorders, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or recovery from surgery more difficult.
Is it healthy to be overweight or obese? The findings of the new study need to be examined carefully and weighed against other evidence to the contrary, and it’s likely the scales will be in favor of maintaining a healthy weight.
BBC News January 2, 2013
Carnethon MR et al. Association of weight status with mortality in adults with incident diabetes. JAMA 2012 Aug; 308(6): 581-90
Flegal KM et al. Association of all-cause mortality with overweight and obesity using standard body mass index categories: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA 2013: 309(1): 71-82