The report-a review of 42 studies on the relationships between weight, mortality and disease-revealed that our weight affects our life expectancy only when we become obese, which is defined as a BMI score of 30 kg/m2 or higher. In general, the death rate among those who are obese is 20-per-cent greater than in those with lower BMI scores. However, as we get older, even obesity seems to have less of an impact on our health. "After age 65, obesity is hardly or not at all associated with a shortened life expectancy," the researchers said (Dtsch Arztebl Int, 2009; 106: 641-8).
Although these findings might sound surprising, they echo the results of two previous studies which were published online ahead of print. These, too, showed that being a little on the tubby side might not be so bad after all.
In one, a Japanese study that followed nearly 27,000 older adults (aged 65-79) for 11 years, it was found that overweight individuals can expect to live at least as long as people of 'normal' weight. In fact, in men, even being obese did not increase the risk of death (Obesity [Silver Spring], 2009 Jun 18; Epub ahead of print).
In the other, a Canadian study involving more than 11,000 people aged 25 or older, being overweight actually reduced the risk of death. Indeed, those with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 kg/m2 had a 17-per-cent lower risk of dying during the 12-year study period compared with those of normal weight. Moreover, being moderately obese (obesity class 1: having a BMI between 30 and 35 kg/m2) was not associated with an increased risk of mortality (Obesity [Silver Spring], 2009 Jun 18; Epub ahead of print).
Interestingly, both studies also found that being underweight dramatically increased the risk of death.
Fat and healthy
How is it possible that being overweight might potentially be good for us-or, at least, not bad for us? According to Dr Katherine Flegal and colleagues-whose own research has also shown that carrying a few extra pounds may prolong your life-it could be that modestly higher weights can improve survival under certain circumstances.
"Overweight . . . may be associated with improved survival during recovery from adverse conditions, such as infections or medical procedures, and with improved prognosis for some diseases," the team reported. "Such findings may be due to greater nutritional reserves or higher lean body mass associated with overweight" (JAMA, 2007; 298: 2028-37). In other words, it may be that being "above normal weight for your height" may not help you to avoid contracting a disease in the first place, but it could improve your chances of surviving it when you do.
Indeed, studies show that heart-attack survivors are less likely to suffer another heart attack and die from it if they are overweight or obese. Also, overweight intensive-care patients have a better chance of surviving than those who are normal weight (Dtsch Arztebl Int, 2009; 106: 641-8).
However, such findings shouldn't be used as an excuse to pile on the pounds. A significant body of evidence continues to link obesity with a number of specific diseases, such as coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes (Dtsch Arztebl Int, 2009; 106: 641-8). Nevertheless, it still shows that thinner is not always healthier, so if you can't fit into your jeans come New Year, you shouldn't feel too bad about it.
Treats you can enjoy
u Chocolate. Numerous studies have found dark chocolate to be good for the heart and blood pressure (Hypertension, 2005; 46: 398-405). It may also help to prevent diabetes (Am J Clin Nutr, 2005; 81: 611-4).
u Red wine. Resveratrol, a polyphenol antioxidant found in red wine, may protect against cancer (Int J Cancer, 2009 Nov 11; Epub ahead of print), diabetes (Endocrinology, 2009 Oct 9; Epub ahead of print), heart disease (J Cardiovasc Pharmacol, 2009 Sep 18; Epub ahead of print) and even Alzheimer's (Neurochem Int, 2009; 54: 111-8). Most of these studies, however, were in animals, so the results may not apply to humans.
u Nuts. Although nuts are high in fat, they also contain the heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats shown to lower blood lipids. Nuts are also rich in arginine, magnesium, copper, folic acid, protein, potassium, fibre and vitamin E (BMJ, 1998; 317: 1341-5).
WDDTY Volume 20 Issue 09