Being Overweight Is Linked to Lower Risk of Mortality

The longest lived among us aren't necessarily those who are of normal weight, says a new study.

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The longest lived among us aren’t necessarily those who are of normal weight, says a new study.

According to new research this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers say that being overweight may lead to a longer life.

The somewhat surprising conclusion comes from an enormous, detailed review of over 100 previously published research papers connecting body weight and mortality risk among 2.88 million study participants living around the world. The new research confirms that obese people, and particularly those who are extremely obese, tend to die earlier than those of normal weight. But the findings also suggest that people who are overweight (but not obese) may live longer than people with clinically normal body weight.

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The new report is the largest and most comprehensive review of how weight, measured as body mass index (BMI), a measure comparing the ratio of height to weight, can influence longevity. Previous studies that have exposed the link in the past, however, have raised questions about whether the overweight advantage is real.

“We published an article in 2005 that showed, among other things, that overweight was associated with lower mortality — and we got an awful lot of negative feedback from that,” says the current study’s lead author, Katherine Flegal, a senior research scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since that  study, however, dozens of others have reached the same conclusion — even if it was hard for researchers and the public to accept.

MORE: Childhood Obesity Rates Drop in Some Cities: What Are They Doing Right?

“I think there’s a lot of under reporting of this finding […] and so people are sort of repeatedly surprised by it,” Flegal says. Because many researchers don’t expect to find a benefit associated with being overweight, she suggests, they may not believe their results are valid if they find such a connection, which may make them more hesitant to publish them and invite review and discussion about what may be driving the trend.

For the new study, Flegal and her colleagues analyzed every study they could find that broke down death risk broken by the standard BMI categories set by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the late 1990s: with underweight defined as BMI less than 18.5, normal weight being BMI between 18.5 and 25, overweight being BMI between 25 and 30, and obese as BMI of over 30. Men or women who are 5’4″ would have “normal” BMI if they weighed between 108 and 145 pounds, for example, and overweight if they weighed 146 to 174 pounds, and obese if weighed more than that.

MORE: Predicting Obesity at Birth

Overall, people who were overweight but not obese were 6% less likely to die during the average study period than normal-weight people. That advantage held among both men and women, and did not appear to vary by age, smoking status, or region of the world. The study looked only at how long people lived, however, and not how healthy they were whey the died, or how they rated their quality of life.

Why would overweight people live the longest?

Flegal and her co-authors suggest that it’s possible that overweight and obese people get better medical care, either because they show symptoms of disease earlier or because they’re screened more regularly for chronic diseases stemming from their weight, such as diabetes or heart problems. There is also some evidence that heavier people may have better survival during a medical emergencies such as infections or surgery; if you get pneumonia and lose 15 lbs, it helps to have 15 lbs to spare, for example.

MORE: Can’t Sleep? Losing Belly Fat May Help

Another possible explanation may involve “reverse causation”: maybe being thin doesn’t make you sick, as some experts argue, but instead being sick can make you thin. Being overweight may be associated with longer lives if people who lose weight because of diseases such as cancer, for example, contribute to earlier death among individuals who weigh less.

Flegal also says her findings may necessarily be contrary to previous studies about the relationship between BMI and mortality because those analyses used a variety of different BMI categories with different cut-points for the various weight groups. In the new JAMA study, Flegal and colleagues only looked at research using the WHO categories. Even so, she acknowledges that interpreting the results may be confusing, since the names of the WHO “normal” and “overweight” categories don’t necessarily correspond to commonly held perceptions. Today, roughly 33% of U.S. adults are clinically overweight, according to WHO standards, and an additional 36% are obese. By those standards, the average American is not clinically normal weight at all, but considered overweight. So in fact, the overweight people in the study who tend to live longest may not be fatter than most people at all. Among Americans, at least, they may actually be of average weight.

In addition, say doctors, weight alone may not be enough to understand an individual’s risk of developing disease and dying early. The latest research shows, for example, that it’s not just the fat that comes with weight gain, but the type of fat, particularly fat that accumulates around the belly, that might be more life-threatening. All of which suggests that the connection between weight and health is a complicated one that may not be measured simply in years lived.

40 comments
prashant
prashant

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bulksmsbase
bulksmsbase

According to new research this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers say that being overweight may lead to a longer life. This has to be proved overtime. bulk sms

gphx
gphx

I've never seen anyone break a leg, get hit by a car, get bitten by a rattlesnake, or fall off a cliff while sitting in a chair. In the 1970s Dr. Jim Fixx popularized jogging for health. He died of a massive heart attack while jogging. Risk isn't always what it appears. Sedentary people by definition avoid a lot of risky behaviors more active people routinely engage in. If anything in this world is dangerous it's simple generalities and presumptions.

MichelleM
MichelleM

BMI was designed by a Mathematician not  physitian it is totally outdated and wrong good article

defensehealth
defensehealth

Staying at a healthy weight helps in so many ways and it's not only the workout or program you choose, but also how you eat and what you put into your body that makes a huge difference in the overall outcome. Staying strong is not only physical, but mental and the cleaner the items you put in your body, especially protein boosters, the cleaner the outcome. 

RobinLeedsburg
RobinLeedsburg

This is just an attempt of the american media to appease to overweight Americans. Yes America, you're fat.

fmoolten
fmoolten

The title of this article in Time is somewhat misleading in its use of the term "overweight" to describe a group of individuals at relatively low risk for premature death.   Having read the original JAMA article as well as other evidence in the literature, I believe the following conclusions are justified, some more tentatively than others, as a better description of the evidence.


1. The BMI is an imprecise measure of deviations from optimal weight and body fat.  Nevertheless, as a rough approximation, being underweight or seriously overweight by a BMI estimate is associated with an increased risk of premature death.
 

2. The standard BMI categories are probably poorly drawn.  When "normal" is defined as 18.5 to <25, it probably averages some underweight individuals together with those whose weight is in a healthier range.  In fact, some earlier studies that defined "normal" as 20 to <25 (thereby excluding those at the low end), found their "normals" to have lower mortality rates than those in the overweight (25 to <30) category, and of course much lower than those in the obese categories.  Perhaps, an "ideal" BMI might be somewhere in the 23-26 range, while recognizing the inadequacy of the BMI as a definitive predictor of risk.  Anyone in this range should probably feel comfortable staying there.
 

3. The distribution of body fat is critical.  Excess intra-abdominal fat - the kind the produces the "spare tire" look - is probably hazardous.  On the other hand, slight excess involving the arms, legs, hips, and buttocks is probably harmless, and in the absence of excess intra-abdominal fat might even confer some net benefit, such as protection against hip fractures in the elderly.
 

4.  The U.S. has a severe obesity problem that is likely to worsen over time without serious attention to our dietary and exercise habits.

thewholetruth
thewholetruth

What we have to understand is that skinny does not equal healthy. In generations back skinny meant lack of nutrients and poverty not healthy. Those who eat more take in more nutrients and suffer from less malnutrition, they are often healthier than those who are thin

Skinny can mean A.I.D.S, Cancer,drug addiction or lack of nutrition. The fashion industry has caused us to believe skinny is healthy( Why anyone would listen to the fashion industry is anyone's guess)

In fact, there are a growing number of people with Type 2 diabetes and skinny See here http://spirithappydiet.blogspot.com/2012/12/diabetes-not-overweight-confused-about.html


MassiveMarbles
MassiveMarbles

First of all, this is not about being fat or obese it's about being slightly overweight which to me makes sense. Slimming down to bone after stressing the body will leave nothing left in the unfortunate event that you suffer a debilitating setback.

digitalm0nkeys
digitalm0nkeys

Using BMI as a yardstick is a ridiculous way to make this claim. More muscular people will have a higher BMI than the "norm". 

How was the normal BMI population sampled?

Why not write about the dangers of obesity and how out of control it is in this country because of the stranglehold the sugar, fastfood, and prepackaged industries have on this country.

ratebeerjoet
ratebeerjoet

Flaw #5: Being fat may simply be associated with living in a developed nation with good health care.

MichaelWellman
MichaelWellman

Gotta love it when the headline on Time's main page says "Obesity Linked to Lower Mortality Risk", yet the article says "... obese people, and particularly those who are extremely obese, tend to die earlier than those of normal weight. But the findings also suggest that people who are overweight (but not obese) may live longer than people with clinically normal body weight." So... not only was Obesity *NOT* linked to a lower mortality risk but, in fact, the opposite is true.

bobbobwhite41
bobbobwhite41

Very specious conclusions. If you check the real facts, "overweight" in this study is not the morbid obesity that is killing many more Americans every year.  It is the very questionable "healthy height/weight tables" that makes many of us "overweight" and includes many that appear to be of healthy normal weight.Truth be told, any one of us knows all too well from our life experience that true obesity is very unhealthy, limits life choices and lifespan greatly, and wastes most of life's precious moments for those afflicted by keeping them chained to the supermarket, the kitchen and the bathroom.  Obesity is more than a sickness, it is an epidemic, as today even those in poverty have more than enough to eat compared to early days. This epidemic of obesity is truly a profound abuse and negative example of our national "embarassment of riches" compared to pre-WWII America.

kf4amyd
kf4amyd

How many overweight elderly people have you seen?  I've seen some in nursing homes, otherwise, it's nearly none.

MyronB.Pitts
MyronB.Pitts

I think this story should be treated very carefully. It does make the distinction, lower down in the text, between overweight and obese. But in the public consciousness, these two are often treated as the same. "Overweight" in medical terms is very different than the popular image of "overweight," which people associate with being visibly obese. There are many people who are a few pounds over the weight their doctors consider ideal but who, to the public at large, would never qualify as being overweight. I suspect the study more encompasses those former kinds of  folks, not the obese, who usually have a high risk factor for one or more diseases. I also agree with the person who says that BMI does not take body composition into account (nor does it include a person's family medical history).

venom74799
venom74799

Thank You commentonitall. I'm 5'11 and currently weight 175 now and feel like a bean pole. I do cardio about 5 - 6 times a week yet would kill to gain 10 lbs of mass just to fill in all the skin pouches I have (I lost 125 lbs within a year so my skin sags until i can tone better) The BMI states I technically am overweight and if I lose 3 mor lbs I would be considered normal :o  I feel as long as you feel healthy get checked out as healthy and don't have any health issues then you shouldn't rely on something so flawed and will not take into account body types (bigger bones and health ailments like thyroid issues for women) and fat vs muscles.

commentonitall
commentonitall

I think the reason is outside factors, as in heavy people tend to do less, therefore they are exposed to less risks and dangers.  For example heavy people may not ride a bike as much as healthy people, therefore the healthy people have a higher risk of dying because of their exposure.  Another reason is that BMI does not look at muscle mass.  For example I am 5'11 and weigh 191 pounds.  According to the BMI index I am overweight, but in reality I go to the gym 5 times a week and am in great physical health and very toned, I just happen to have a lot of muscle.  Most football players are probably considered "overweight" as well.  This study fails to address very simple explanations and should look at muscle mass vs. fat.  Then the results would make more sense.

verbatim
verbatim

This is just what fat people need: an excuse to eat more and not exercise. "See, we FAT people are the healthy ones. Not you who exercise and eat right. Gimme another Double Whopper and an extra large milkshake, hold the exercise...."

hayatsante
hayatsante

Living longer may not be as important as living healthier. BMI is a flawed metric and basing scientific conclusions on an erroneous assumption can only serve to confuse. It would be interesting to see how these findings would change if the upper limit of the ‘normal’ BMI were to be raised to 27. The bigger worry, nevertheless, is obesity, and for study purposes defining the threshold criteria that separates the overweight from obese is critical.

ktsmom9
ktsmom9

@fmoolten I've been noticing that there is no distinction made between torso fat that is inside the abdomen and fat that is an outer layer.  When I lost 75lbs two years ago I could feel an amazing difference in my belly.  As my ab muscles strengthened and I could feel the layers of fat getting softer (as the individual cells shrank and became more spongy rather than full/hard fat) I could ALSO tell that I was losing fat internally, even as my "baby belly" got softer but still hung around.  I now have a fairly lean internal torso mass, but that pesky outer fat layer is still there.


I don't think the outer layer of fat is encroaching on any organs, and certainly is no longer interfering with my lung capacity (or bladder capacity - YAY).  I wish the docs would make this distinction, because I think the location of ab fat (inner/outer) is equally important to ab fat vs leg fat.

ktsmom9
ktsmom9

@thewholetruth Skinny doesn't necessarily mean unhealthy, and neither does fat.  It all depends on a complex blend of genetics, nutrient choices and lifestyle. 


In my family, being "overweight" (obese) is normal.  Looking back through family pictures, pretty much everyone in my family for the past 150 years was obese - some of us morbidly so.  My grandmother lived to a hearty 93, not experiencing any major health issues  until the last 2-3 years when she began having strokes.


In "modern" times, however, with the proliferation of empty caloried junk food, it's VERY possible to be overweight/obese and suffer from major malnutrition.  I see people with grocery carts overflowing with white bread, sugar, fat laden snacks, sugar sodas and pre-packaged meals.  UGH.  I doubt some of these people would know a fresh veggie if it whacked them upside the head.  


At the same time, viewing "skinny" as the be all and end all of perceived "health" is just as ignorant.  Some people are naturally lean and wiry.  Swimmers and gymnasts usually have these natural builds.  They often become "softer" as they reach middle age though.  My high school sweetheart was extremely lean through his 20's, but now at 50 he has the classic pot belly of middle age spread.  It will probably keep him living longer.  =)

roon
roon

@thewholetruth 

Well I'm 13 and skinny, but I don't lack nutrition. I'm a swimmer and just genetically lean. When I was a baby my mother asked the doctor if I was too skinny and he said that I was fine. My mom used to be just as skinny as me when she was younger. Skinny does not necessarily mean unhealthy. It can mean that you are lean and muscular like me. I can lift my sister (she is my own weight)

CarrieMillermanElsass
CarrieMillermanElsass

@digitalm0nkeys , agreed. My husband, who is all muscle and in incredible shape, shows up as "overweight" in terms of BMI if you just look on paper. 

CurtisCarey
CurtisCarey

@kf4amyd  Lots! My grandmother (Who is 95), my ex girlfriend's grandmother (who is 85). They are more than overweight. They are obese. Don't forget what overweight and obese may look like. Brad Pitt (overweight) and George Clooney (Obese) according to BMI

AndrewK777
AndrewK777

@commentonitall  

That was exactly what I was thinking. Obese people are not likely to die from being hit by a car while jogging, or falling during a rock climb. 

LouiseSecret
LouiseSecret

@verbatim Fat people are not going to take this as an excuse to eat more and not exercise... who would do that? Most fat people would probably take this as validation, that the efforts they are putting in to their health are worth it, even if it doesn't show on the outside.

ThymeForbed
ThymeForbed

@verbatim If people are that stupid to not know what is good for them......... I am an overweight person, but probably the healthiest fat person you will ever meet.  I am a vegan, eat only whole foods (some whole grain pasta) I just dont exercise enough.  I am admittedly a lazy person, but trying to change that.  Besides that, I do know right from wrong, health wise, and I know that meat and dairy are bad bad bad as well as refined sugars, flours and almost ALL processed foods.  People just need to realize what they are putting in their bodies is what is going to make them live or die, sooner or later.  If they want to hide behind studies that seem to make it okay to be fat, then that is their own nail in the coffin.

MyronB.Pitts
MyronB.Pitts

Unfortunately, if this study is misinterpreted -- and there is a high risk of that -- people could come away with the exact message that you state.

elizamiller.la
elizamiller.la

@ktsmom9 That's a very good point in differentiating between being overweight while nourished and being overweight while malnourished.

TracieHamby
TracieHamby

@commentonitall 

I would say the discrepancy has more to do with BMI not being a great model because it doesn't take body composition into account.  Accidents represent a relatively small percentage, when you take into account how many people die each year from health related issues.  BMI is a terrible model for anyone with higher muscle mass.

verbatim
verbatim

@ThymeForbed @verbatim I also used to be overweight. About ten years ago, I lost 1/3rd of my body weight. I changed my eating habits and started exercising every day: cut the carbs, sugar, junk food, and cut down on (but did not eliminate) meat.

By the way, meat and dairy are not "bad bad bad" when eaten in their proper proportions. It's just like most food items: moderation.

mckend4
mckend4

@ThymeForbed @verbatim Meat and dairy are not "bad bad bad" as you put it. Being a vegan doesn't mean that your diet is the only one that works.

verbatim
verbatim

@MyronB.Pitts -- most people barely pay attention. They will see the headline and read maybe a little of the story and then they will misinterpret what they read anyway to justify their fat, lazy lifestyle. People want to (1) blame others, (2) expect outside forces to fix their problems. About ten years ago, I stopped making excuses and lost the weight myself: the only thing that made me fat and lazy WAS ME. Now I am my proper weight and have a much better life.

ktsmom9
ktsmom9

@ThymeForbed @mckend4 @verbatim "Conventionally grown" meats and dairy are all you say:  bad, bad, bad, but educate yourself about PASTURE raised meat and dairy. 


It's been proven repeatedly that grass fed beef and chicken are very high in omega-3 fats, lower in saturated fats, and loaded with well absorbed proteins and B-vitamins that are NOT readily available in veggies only.  The eggs from pastured chickens are completely different nutritionally from "conventional" eggs.  I have my own small flock of hens and can attest to the incredible difference in texture, flavor and color of the eggs.  I can't even stand to LOOK at a conventionally raised egg.

Organically grown/pastured meats and dairy have no hormones, anti-biotics or pesticides.  Cows raised organically do not contribute puss or blood to the milk (organic growers will remove sick cows from the herd and hand milk them until they are healthy again).  Certainly no GMO's in an organic herd!


Finally, not all saturated fat is the same.  Have you read the research on the health benefits of coconut oil?  The saturated fats from grass-raised beef has similar components.  The ratio of omega-3 fats is much higher.  It's simply an entirely different sort of food than cattle raised on grain in confinement feed-lots.  Those poor creatures are not healthy "food" in any sense of the word, but don't throw out all meat because of a system that ruins what comes natural!

mckend4
mckend4

@ThymeForbed @mckend4 @verbatim That's all very interesting, but there are accomplished medical journals that refute most if not all of your claims. Incidentally, you should look up the definition of "inhibitor." I'm not arguing that a vegan diet is bad; on the contrary, I believe that it's a very effective method to keeping yourself healthy, just not the only one. Meat is not unnatural or bad for you (yes, even red meat in moderation is good for you. Look at an Olympic athletes diet). Anyway, educate yourself or don't. It's all the same to me :)


I won't be replying any more, so argue to your hearts content. Maybe someone will read it.

ThymeForbed
ThymeForbed

@mckend4 @ThymeForbed @verbatim Meat and dairy ARE bad bad bad. They are full of hormones, antibiotics, puss, blood, gmo's and more.  THAT cannot be good for anyone.  As for diets, no, vegan diets are not the only ones that work, you are right, but if you want to stay healthy and live a long life, then vegan is the way to go.  Meat and dairy also have cancer inhibitors in them, dairy is FULL OF FAT, and does nothing healthy for you. As for calcium in any dairy product, you get more calcium absorbed into your body by eating broccoli than any dairy.  I could go on and on, but I wont.  You want to know how bad, just google it, the truth is out there, but people are so programmed that meat and dairy are a MUST, and too lazy to change, they will ignore the truth, until the cancer or their death is staring them in the face, and even then, some will be too ignorant to change.