Health Team

A Little Extra Weight Is Health Help in Some Situations

Posted November 6, 2007 3:59 p.m. EST
Updated November 7, 2007 2:01 p.m. EST

— 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.