Overweight people live longer

woman with scale

A new study from Canada, one of the largest of its kind, has confirmed yet again that overweight people live longer. The study, published in the journal Obesity, followed over 11,000 Canadian adults for 12 years. The study found:

Overweight (BMI 25 to <30) was associated with a significantly decreased risk of death (RR = 0.83, P < 0.05). The RR was close to one for obesity class I (BMI 30–35; RR = 0.95, P >0.05). Our results are similar to those from other recent studies … showing that when compared to the acceptable BMI category, overweight appears to be protective against mortality…

Morbid obesity increased the risk of death, but underweight increased it even more:

A significant increased risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow-up was observed for underweight (BMI <18.5; relative risk (RR) = 1.73, P < 0.001) and obesity class II+ (BMI >35; RR = 1.36, P <0.05). In other words, for a woman who is 5’5″ tall, and “ideal” weight is considered to be 114-149 lbs. But those women weighing 150-174 lbs actually lived longer than those weighing less than 150 lbs and women weighing 180-204 lbs lived as long as women of “ideal” weight. Those most at risk for shorter lifespan were women weighing less than 114 pounds. As the authors indicate, this study merely confirms what decades of scientific evidence have already demonstrated. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, overweight people live longer. It’s worth asking: if the scientific evidence shows that overweight is protective, why has it become conventional wisdom that being thin is healthiest? The answer, I believe, is prejudice. Simply put, being overweight is associated with being poor. As I have written in the past, many American predilections are grounded in economic status, and weight is no different. When poor people were thin because they didn’t have enough to eat, being overweight was a sign of status. Similarly, when poor people were tanned because of working outside, white skin was a sign of status. When poor women couldn’t afford anesthesia for childbirth, access to chloroform was a sign of status. Now, of course, status is associated with a midwinter tan (courtesy of a tropical vacation), a commitment to “natural” childbirth, and, especially, being thin. Wealthy people are thin, and celebrities are thin. Indeed, we are so obsessed with being thin as a sign of status that both women’s magazines and celebrity magazines are filled with diets and the tales of people who have successfully lost weight. By implication, the overweight are poor and less desirable. The idea that being thin is healthier also dovetails nicely with another American fantasy: that we can control our health by what we eat. Of course morbid obesity is a serious health problem with potentially deadly consequences. However, simply being overweight is not only safe, but actually appears to be protective compared to “ideal” weight. That’s what the data really show. Thin is in, because it is viewed as a sign of economic status, and an indication of personal rectitude, but it is not justified by the scientific data, nor by the fact that weight is now a proxy for wealth. Like any prejudice, it is not justified at all.