Do Overweight Women Live Longer?
New research finds that overweight women live longer than their skinnier peers.
Constantly obsessing over those last five to 10 pounds? Turns out the extra padding might actually be the key to longevity. According to a new study analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, overweight men and women have significantly less chance of dying from any cause—even when compared to those of normal weight.
Researchers from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at nearly 100 studies and 2.88 million people to get a better idea of how weight and overall mortality are connected. They calculated the risk of death relative to those with a normal Body Mass Index (BMI of 18.5 to 24.9), and found that men and women classified as obese (BMI of greater than 30) had an 18 percent higher risk of death, but those who were overweight (BMI of 25 to 29.9) reduced their odds of all-mortality death by 6 percent. (Do you want to slim down? Try these 50 Easy Ways to Lose Belly Fat.)
“Our goal was to review 100 percent of the literature,” says lead study author Katherine Flegal, Ph.D. “In obese people the risk (of death) was higher, yet we found that in 70 percent of cases, in people who were modestly overweight, there was a lower mortality risk. It might have something to do with active adipose tissue producing beneficial functions that we don’t yet understand.” (Fat isn’t all bad. Here, The 4 Healthy Fats You Should Cook With.)
If this new study sounds like a good reason not to worry about recent holiday weight gain, think twice before buying in. There could be some drawbacks to the research. “There are two possibilities,” says Steven Heymsfield, M.D., of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. “Either it’s a real finding that can actually help people, or it’s a statistical artifact. One of the issues is that the research inadvertently included sick people, who might lose weight because of illness.” In other words, a person who was overweight when she developed a condition could have fallen in the normal weight range at time of death. So, take this analysis with a grain of salt.
However, those few extra pounds might still generate positive effects. “Being a little overweight may have some protective benefits; maybe if you’re hospitalized and lose weight, or if you have extra padding in case of a fall,” Heymsfield says. More research would be needed to confirm this, though. (If you’re going to fall during, say, a basketball game, don’t put your arms straight out to break the fall—you could dislocate your elbow. Learn even more tricks with these 10 Secrets from Top Trainers.)
So how do you find a happy, healthy weight? Taking care of yourself is more important than hitting a number on the scale. Heymsfield identifies two rules of thumb: “If you’re overweight, try not to gain any more weight where you can enter into that dangerous obese range,” he says. (Remember, obesity was linked to an 18 percent higher mortality risk.) “Then, make sure blood pressure isn’t too high, blood sugar is okay, and check any of the other things that may put you at risk,” says Heymsfield. Make routine trips to your doc to make sure your heart and organs are functioning properly, and cholesterol and other levels are normal. (Is your munching stalling your progress? Nibble guilt-free with these 28 Snacks Under 100 Calories.)
If your body passes all tests with flying colors, then be mindful — but don’t obsess. “Let’s say you have no other risk factors,” Heymsfield says. “Then just stay fit and make sure to maintain a healthy diet. As long as a person’s keeping all aspects of their health in check, that’s what’s most important.” (Does your grocery list need a makeover? Check out the 8 Superfoods You Should Be Eating.)
--Jenna Birch, Women’s Health
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