Overweight People Live Longer: Making Sense of a Health Paradox

If you are young and healthy, then obesity, which causes problems in 15 or 20 years, is relevant. With age, though, the balance may tip in favor of extra weight to fight ill health. 

What's the Latest Development? 

Since January of this year, when the National Center for Health Statistics published a meta-analysis of 97 health studies, including 2.9 million people, suggesting that overweight individuals are 6% less likely to die than are those of "normal" weight, public health officials have worked to cope with a potentially dangerous health paradox. The reason behind the study is that, as we age, metabolic reserves could play an important role in combating disease. “If you are young and healthy, then obesity, which causes problems in 15 or 20 years, is relevant.” With age, though, the balance may tip in favor of extra weight.

What's the Big Idea?

Critics of the meta-study say that accepting its claims unchallenged risks setting back decades of public health policy. An essential distinction that could be glossed over by the casual reader is the difference between being overweight, which may be slightly beneficial in our autumn years, versus being obese, which has always been associated with higher mortality rates. Walter Willett, a leading nutritionist at the Harvard school, and a harsh critic of the study, said: "We see that time and time again being exploited, by the soda industry, in the case of obesity, or by the oil industry, in the case of global warming."

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Read it at Nature

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