Published On: Wed, Jan 2nd, 2013

Fat People Live Longer

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fat-people-memeFor years now, as the waistlines of people across the world have ballooned, the experts have been ramming home the message – if you are overweight then you could be putting your life at risk from serious health problems. Obesity has been described as an epidemic, and public health campaigns have tried to cajole us into shedding those extra pounds.

But now one group of scientists in the United States is giving out a new message, and one that will be welcomed by a great many people who are still feeling guilty about that extra Christmas weight: if you are NOT overweight then you could be putting your life at risks. The National Centre for Health Statistics analysed data from 97 different studies, giving them access to the medical histories of 2.88 million people from the US, Europe, Canada, Australia, China, Japan, India, Brazil, Mexico and Israel. They found that the people who were classified as overweight had a 6% lower risk of death than people with ‘optimal weight’.

Whilst it may be surprising that being overweight was associated with a 6% lower risk of death, it is perhaps even more surprising that mild grade 1 obesity was also associated with a 5% lower risk of death. More serious obesity of grade 2 or 3, however, came with a huge 29% increased risk of death.

The results of this latest study are backed up by previous evidence which suggests that obese people are more likely to survive a heart attack than their slimmer counterparts. Nobody is quite sure why it is that being overweight may actually increase your lifespan, but the study’s authors did offer some suggestions when presenting their work in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA):

¬†”Possible explanations have included earlier presentation of heavier patients, greater likelihood of receiving optimal medical treatment, cardioprotective metabolic effects of increased body fat and benefits of higher metabolic reserves.”

Perhaps we will have to rethink our definitions of what constitutes the correct weight in light of this evidence Рbut beware: being overweight may help you live longer but it does still carry an increased risk of a wide range of medical problems. In fact, it could be that the case that the only reason mildly obese people live longer is because they suffer from a wide range of treatable health problems, which keep them visiting their doctor on a regular basis  Рmeaning that the doctor can pick up more serious problems early on.

Did you know: You are less likely to die from an accident if you are drunk. This is a good example of another counter-intuitive health fact, and also serves well to show why we should be wary of such facts. Drunk people are, of course, more likely to be involved in an accident, and so more likley to be killed in an accident. But if you are going to be involved in a serious accident then it pays to be drunk – because the alcohol helps to stop your body shutting down due to shock.

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- Science and Technology Editor

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