Health Team

A Little Extra Weight Is Health Help in Some Situations

Posted November 6, 2007
Updated November 7, 2007

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— It’s hardly news that maintaining a healthy weight is important − but how much of a health risk is there to being just overweight, not obese?

A new study published in one of the nation’s top medical journals looked at how much difference it makes when it comes to death from heart disease or cancer and when other causes are involved, and the results may surprise you.

Brent Hagen, 26, is overweight − according the body mass index, or BMI, way of calculating that. That was not what he thought.

“I don't think of myself as overweight, and I don't think anyone that I know has ever thought of me as overweight either,” Hagen said.

Your BMI is simply your weight in kilograms divided the square of your height in meters. You can find out your BMI easily, though, by entering your height in feet and inches and your weight in pounds in an online BMI calculator.

You’re considered obese if your BMI is 30 or higher. Normal BMI is 18.5 to 25. Overweight is in the middle, BMIs from 25 to 30.

That’s the official rule, but the Katherine Flegal of the government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says being overweight may have some health benefits.

“We found very different relationships between weight and different causes of death in the U.S. population,” Flegal said. The CDC researchers analyzed data on about 36,000 people and 12,000 deaths in 2004.

The study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that obesity was linked to about 11 percent of deaths from cancers such as breast, kidney, colon or pancreatic.

It's also linked to 9 percent of cardiovascular deaths.

Being just overweight, however, had no association with deaths from cancer or cardiovascular disease, the researchers found.

What’s more, there were outcomes that seemed to be beneficial in some circumstances.

“About 40 percent of deaths in the U.S. population are due to causes that are neither cancer nor cardiovascular disease − and there we found that overweight was associated with a significantly reduced number of deaths from those causes,” Flegal said.

So, overweight may have some protective effect.

“When you think of someone who is overweight,” Hagen said, “you think of someone who is visibly large. You think of someone who is unhealthy, basically.”

This study’s definition of overweight may change that thinking, however.


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  • alexaa87 Nov 8, 2007

    I saw this mentioned on and wanted to add my two cents. I personally think it's a bit dangerous to create the impression that it's ok for people to be overweight. I mean, we're being overweight right now, even though we know this is a problem; if we start thinking it's ok to be a bit overweight, we'll probably end up being really overweight. I realize it's a matter of degree, and the specialists are not advocating for people to become obese, but I think once we change our frame of mind to thinking it's ok to eat more, it will be hard to eat just *a little bit* more, and many will end up eating *a lot* more.

  • 68_polara Nov 8, 2007

    This is only because what they consider as non over weight these days is unhealthy for most people after they changed the BMI standards the last time.

  • Leonardo Nov 8, 2007

    "Is it me or was this story a bit confusing. I was left wondering what the other deaths that overweight people seemed to be at less risk were."
    Well...I can think of the following. Overweight people are less likely to suffer from sexually transmitted diseases, since people want to have sex with them less. And in accidents, the extra fat cushions their bodies.

  • brassy Nov 7, 2007

    What a silly idea. And who invented all these bizarre weight calculators? My hip/waist ratio is 1 and I'm only a size 12. They like to assume that all people are built the same way.

  • doodad Nov 7, 2007

    These studies are bogus. Over ten years ago the same "studies" suggested that women who had one social alcholic beverage a day were less likely to develop breast cancer. Now the studies reveal the exact opposite.

    If you don't like how you look or feel, make a change. Skinny people have heart disease also. What really shortens your life span, as far as your health is concerned, is your diet.

  • readme Nov 7, 2007

    Great, another excuse for fat people to stay fat. This study begs the question "If fat people have a lower death rate on other deseases besides cardiovascular problems and cancer, could it be because so many of them are dying of heart attacks before they are old enough to die of those other causes?" That is a very obvious follow-up question not even mentioned here. This is a sloppy study or sloppy reporting, or both.

  • Karmageddon Nov 7, 2007

    By George, I'm going to get me a Big Mac today

  • Gunslinger Nov 7, 2007

    Is it me or was this story a bit confusing. I was left wondering what the other deaths that overweight people seemed to be at less risk were.

    I read it and just didn't get much out of it, but it could just be me.

  • xxxxxxxxxxxxx Nov 7, 2007

    thewayitis - I agree with you. It seems to me that those BMI calculations have just become an updated version of the old height/weight charts that said if you were so tall, you were supposed to weigh so much or else you were overweight. They don't take into consideration body structure, muscle to fat ratio or overall health and fitness. I 150 lb person who is very healthy, athletic, fit and muscular is certainly different from a 150 lb couch potato who drives to his/her mailbox.

    I am in excellent health and get a lot of exercise, but I am technically overweight and always have been. I don't worry about it.

  • Rolling Along Nov 7, 2007

    BMI has got to be one of the least accurate methods of determining overall health. Aerobic capacity, BP, resting pulse, cholesterol levels...all are better indicators. FWIW I am "overweight" by BMI but I can run a mile in 6 minutes and have a resting pulse in the low 40's, and cholesterol is in the low normal range (which BTW is greatly dependent on genes)