STUDY: Could Being Obese Actually Help You Live Longer?

By: Daniel Villarreal
1.7.2013

We've all heard that fat increases your chances for heart disease, high blood pressure and chronic joint paint — but could it be that extra weight actually makes people live longer?

Consider the following: the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined the findings of almost 100 studies containing 2,900,000 people and 270,000 deaths and they found that people with a "moderately obese" body mass index (BMI) actually had a six to five percent lower risk of death than people with a "normal weight" body mass index.

The BMI is a widely used estimation of individual fatness based on a person's weight and height. For example, I'm 5'9" and (thanks to two months of non-stop pie-eating) I weight 202 (though I'm working on it). According to an online BMI calculator, my BMI is 29.8, right below "obese" (30).

The researchers found that "moderately obese" people with a BMI of 30 to 35 actually withstand some weight-depleting diseases and surgeries much better than people with no fat to burn through at all.

But before you run off to Krispy Kreme to celebrate the benefits of physical fatness, you should know this — the study doesn't conclude that fat increases lifespan full stop.

Rather, the researchers also concluded that some moderately obese people end up suffering from diabetes and heart problems, health issues that cause them to see the doctor more often and take other health precautions that ultimately help them live longer; longer lives, filled with illness — a mixed blessing at best.

More importantly though, the study also shows that BMI is a crappy indicator of health. Going back to my BMI, in order to fall within the BMI's estimation of "normal weight" (18.5 to 24.9), I'd have to weigh 125 to 169 pounds.

When I was in the best shape of my life (running and lifting weights five times a week), I weighed 175, a weight which still gets me listed as "overweight" in the BMI.

The BMI doesn't account for sex, age, muscle mass or the distribution of fat in the body (an important thing because while fat around major organs is bad for your health, fat in the legs and gut can actually help reduce some diseases). What do you expect from a measurement developed in the mid-1800s?

In short, as long as you're eating regular servings of lean proteins and veggies, a little extra weight isn't a bad thing. It might even save your life.

But not all fats are created equal. So make sure to choose good ones. They'll make your heart healthier and your life much happier.

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