The bigger they come, the longer they live? Overweight men—and even their mildly obese buddies—are likely to outlive skinnier guys, finds surprising new research from the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control.
Researchers examined 97 studies that tracked body mass and morbidity stats on nearly 3 million people of all ages. Those considered severely obese—with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 35—were 29 percent more likely to die during the study period than normal-weight people, or those with a BMI between 18.5 and 24.5. No surprise there. But the researchers also found that overweight men and women with BMIs ranging from 25 to 29.5 were 6 percent less likely to die during the study period than normal-weight people. Even the mildly obese, with BMIs from 30 to 34.5, were slightly more likely to dodge the grim reaper’s scythe, the study found.
How is that possible? “I don’t think there’s any definite answer yet,” study author Katherine Flegal, Ph.D., of the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, tells MensHealth.com. Flegal says a few past studies have shown overweight and obese people are more likely to visit their doctor with health concerns, be screened for disease, and be treated as though the situation could be serious, she says.
So should you take this study as your invitation to pack on a few extra pounds? Please don’t, warns Steven Heymsfield, M.D., who wrote the editorial response that accompanies the government study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Heymsfield says the biggest problem might be the way doctors currently define “overweight.” BMI is a simple calculation of weight relative to height. “It tells us only about a person’s shape,” Dr. Heymsfield tells MensHealth.com. It ignores diet, exercise, fat mass versus muscle mass, and a hundred other factors that contribute to disease and death. (Americans think the body mass index can tell them if they’re at a healthy weight—but they’re wrong. Check out Men’s Health‘s report on The Truth about BMI.)
Abdominal fat in particular has been linked with poor health outcomes, Dr. Heymsfield says. And so waist circumference, blood evaluations, and family history may be just as important as BMI when it comes to assessing health risks, he adds. The best advice? Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and visit your doctor as soon as you think something might be wrong, the study suggests. But don’t assume a little extra weight is your worst enemy, Flegal says.
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