Fat and Healthy: Will Your Love Handles Save Your Life?

01/03/2013

Scale-feet-320x240This is the time of year where people finally take a peek at the scale to assess the diet damage accrued during the holidays. Usually those weigh-ins are followed by promises to lose five, 10, or even 25 pounds. But what if that extra weight might actually help you live longer?

According to a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), being overweight may actually extend your life. After reviewing nearly 100 studies on the topic of body mass index (BMI) and lifespan, researchers found that those who were overweight had lower mortality rates than their obese and normal weight counterparts. Having a few extra pounds decreases your risk of death by six percent – a statistically significant but not especially dramatic number. However, obese individuals were more likely to die earlier than overweight and normal weight participants.

With 33 percent of adults in the United States overweight, this is BIG news. But what does "overweight" even mean -- and are you considered overweight? Being overweight is defined as having a BMI between 25-30. For example, woman who is 5'5" and weighs between 150-180 pounds and a man who is 5'10 and weighs between 180-210 pounds would be labeled as overweight. Not sure where you stand? Calculate your BMI!

So does that mean it's time to abandon your three-times-a-week gym routine and no dessert policy? Not exactly. This isn't the first time research has been published establishing a link between body fat and a longer life, but it is the most extensive study. The researchers used studies with large populations that addressed risk of death and obesity and controlled for other mortality factors such as smoking and chronic conditions. The researchers of this study have established the connection between BMI and mortality, but they haven't determined why curvier individuals live longer. It could be that they see their doctor more often, are more equipped to survive medical emergencies, or simply get screened for certain diseases because they're considered at risk.

There are also plenty of naysayers who claim this study is "rubbish" and that BMI doesn't always give a clear picture of someone's health. Another weakness of this study is that it did not assess quality of life. So even if overweight people are living longer, they may not be living better.

Bottom line: Keep up the healthy eating and regular exercise, but don't stress out if your skinny jeans are a little tight.

-- Mara Betsch

More on Weight Loss:

Body Mass Index Explained

What's a Healthy Body Weight?

20 Ways to Lose Weight

 


The Discovery Fit and Health team brings you the latest (and most interesting) health news as well as exclusive interviews, video clips, and other juicy tidbits from your favorite shows.
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