Nov 7 2007

Better to be overweight? Maybe for some causes of death, but not others

And now we have an MSNBC report of a study just out in JAMA. The summary is a confusing mess to read but the bottom line is that being overweight increases the risk of death from some diseases but not others. Overweight, for example, cushions against pneumonia and other infectious diseases. Obesity increases the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancers considered to be obesity-related but not other types of cancers. Didn’t we know this already? The headline–and my guess is that we will see more of these–seems to be that it takes more than 25 pounds overweight to do this on average. Maybe, if risk factors like blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar remain at reasonable levels.

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  • Michael McLoughlin

    This report received front page headline in the UK Independent newspaper. I can imagine this will be judiciously promoted as an antidote to the World Cancer Research Fund’s report last week by fast food industry. In fact I cannot remember seeing a report like this ever getting front page billing in a ajor UK newspaper. Call me paranoid but I smell a deliberate attempt to confuse the consumer.

  • Carolyn

    Kind of a misleading post, in my opinion. The study found that overweight was associated with increased mortality only from diabetes and kidney disease, and not from cardiovascular disease or cancer, but with many fewer deaths from other causes. So overall, overweight people had a lot lower risk of dying than nomal weight. Did we already know this??

    The cancer report got plenty of coverage, even though it just restated the already known link of obesity and certain cancers, which we did already know. Why was this front page news?

  • Migraineur

    Makes you wonder, if the all-cause death rate is a little lower for “overweight” people – and, as Carolyn points out, that’s exactly what this study shows – should we redefine what we mean by overweight?

    Let’s put this another way. I weigh 147 lbs and have 31% body fat. This gives me about 101 lbs of lean body mass. And I’m 5’3″. The BMI charts say I could weigh 105 lbs and have a “healthy” BMI of 18.5. But, assuming it is not desirable to lose lean body mass, this would mean I’d have less than 3% body fat. And, since I am a woman, that would be well below even the lowest recommended body fat percentage for highly trained athletes. (Recommendations differ, but I’ve never seen one lower than 11% for athletes. And most recommend at least 20% for people with average activity levels.)

    And, of course, whenever we talk about “overweight,” we’re talking about BMI.

    I think we should flush all the BMI charts down the toilet and talk about body fat percentages.