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June 29th, 2009
12:20 PM ET

Study: Being overweight helps you live longer?

By Elizabeth Cohen
Senior Medical Correspondent

We’ve always heard it’s healthier to be thin – but a new study says you’ll actually live longer if you’re a bit overweight.

Researchers at Kaiser Permanente in Portland, Oregon followed 11,326 adults in Canada for twelve years. They found that those who were overweight were 17% less likely to die during the twelve years of the study.

They defined overweight and normal weight by the Body Mass Index chart, which says that someone who’s five-feet-four-inches tall would be considered normal weight at 110 to 140 pounds, and overweight would be 145 to 169 pounds. For someone who’s five-foot-ten, normal weight would be 132 to 167 pounds, and overweight would be 184 to 213 pounds.

“It is surprising carrying a little extra weight may give people a longevity advantage,” said David Feeny, a coauthor of the study. “It may be that a few extra pounds actually protect older people as their health declines.”

So does this mean it’s okay to be overweight? The study authors say no. They say the results illustrate that weight is only one factor in health. “Good health is more than BMI or a number on a scale. We know that people who choose a healthy lifestyle enjoy better health: good food choices, being physically active every day, managing stress, and keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels in check,” says Dr. Keith Bachman, a co-author of the study, which was published online in the journal Obesity.

The study also found that underweight people had the highest risk of dying during the study, and the extremely obese had the second highest risk. For someone who’s five foot four, underweight is below 110 pounds, and extremely obese is over 232 pounds.

So are you overweight? Use this tool to calculate your BMI.

Filed under: In the Newsroom
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. susan

    Need to be clear for public:
    Overweight: BMI 25-29
    Obese: BMI OVER 29

    But this definition the obese are not overweight as the classification is mutually exclusive. Really the key is fitness level. There are other studies that demonstrate that you live longer if you are FIT (aerobically) and heavy than if you are UNFIT and lean.
    Generally speaking, if you are Fit, you are more likely to have muscle mass and not just fat. If you are at "appropriate weight" but anorexic, that is not conducive to long life (bones and fat and water, minimal muscle because your body has already cannibalized your muscle). Be clear!

    June 29, 2009 at 12:36 pm |
  2. RJ

    UMMM not sure where you got your facts but all I know is obese people in this country are a far greater burden on our health system and is partly why your insurance is so high! All you righteous people who come down on smokers need to be coming down on fat people! I know of lots of people who smoke and die old but I know of NOT one person who is obese that lived to be old!

    June 29, 2009 at 1:05 pm |
  3. Potter Kingsland, Ga

    It seems like every year doctors and scientist comes out with some new finding. I think they just cannot makeup their minds. Fat make you live longer if you can avoid heart desease caused by obesity, Diabetes, and all other sickness fa causes. I will just enjoy my life and take precautions I see fit and stop listening to these folks.

    June 29, 2009 at 1:11 pm |

    Dear CNN:

    The Intelligence Quotient test arrival favored women over men (white male). The test was revised until white men overwhelmingly surpassed women. Blacks were not allowed a seat at that table. Is the “Supreme Court” truly “Supreme” when it fails to recognize historical racism as the foundation for these United States of America? U.S. public and private institutions have few legislative restraints prohibiting the practice of constructional white-male.

    June 29, 2009 at 2:09 pm |
  5. jasleen kaur

    it seems that some of the people commenting are confused. it's "overweight" people that live longer, not "obese". "overweight" people have a better chance of surviving certain cancers as well. it also depends on where one carries the weight. heavy around the middle is more dangerous than heavy around the hips. people who are overweight and carry it on the hips are actually LESS likely to get diabetes and heart disease than a thin person with a pot belly. it's a complex issue, not as simple as "fat" vs "thin".

    June 30, 2009 at 9:51 am |
  6. JJ

    What this study fails too note that the BMI of some athletes is in the Obese Range.

    Example I'm 36 yrs old 5' 8" and weigh 176lbs BUT I have less than 11% Body Fat. SO even though I am leaner than most Men my age I am obese according to the BMI.

    BMI does not take in to account muscle mass to body fat ratio to account. Its all or nothing with the BMI

    June 30, 2009 at 10:09 am |
  7. Cheryl

    After my mother got married she gained all the weight she lost before the wedding. When I mentioned it to her she said "It is because I am content."

    June 30, 2009 at 11:19 am |
  8. Mattie Tolley

    Given the fact that some study reported on CNN also indicated 70% of US citizens were obese (not merely overweight) I hope this story does not encourage us to stay that way. It is the fight of my life to try to get back to a healthy weight and it must become the fight of the US. Obesity is a much greater threat to us as a people than terrorism, the economy, or any of the external issues we get such a collective angst about! Yet the health care system, especially insurance, gives those of us who want to win our battle with obesity very little postive help.

    June 30, 2009 at 11:47 am |
  9. Larry

    This sounds like a dumb study.

    "Those who were overweight were 17% less likely to die during the 12 years of the study."

    Did they take other factors into consideration like age and other health problems?

    If all they considered was weight and the 12 years of the study, it's a useless study. Too bad they wasted all that time.

    July 1, 2009 at 10:05 am |
  10. Pete

    Correlational studies like this have severe issues. For example it seems very possible that life ending sicknesses cause weight loss. That could easily skew the data such it would seem overweight people live longer. It might really mean people without organ failure or cancer live longer.. (which could easily be reasons for the weight loss).

    July 9, 2009 at 1:47 am |
  11. David Wolfe

    It is really an interesting article. It is surely an off the topic discussion but we should think about it as well. Just check out the following link for more informtioan about it:

    September 7, 2009 at 10:03 am |
  12. J Mineer

    Another "study" to dupe the unsuspecting into mainstream compliance of ruining their own health to benefit the food companies.

    Use some common sense here. The best way to draw a sensible conclusion to living longer is by learning and understanding the body, what it wants, what it doesn't want, and how much it needs. Then you will realize that 2000 calories is a number computed to help keep people in crave mode to keep a steady flow of consumer buying to protect is screwed up economy of profit. This is not about health at all.

    I suggest visiting the Blue Zones website to realize the real FACTS. It's simple really. Only eat fruits and vegetables that you grow. Stay physically active doing something that you can be proud of. Make friends and encourage community. Love your family. Be positive.

    The way I see it, food companies throw nothing but chemicals and garbage into the food they label "natural". Even V8 juice isn't really healthy. Its heated and the fruit is DEAD when you get it. So, therefore the only person you can trust is yourself through education.

    There a basic fundamental rule when it comes to scientific studies. The non-funded independent studies are usually right on the money. But most studies are politically biased because of the greedy corporate money that is involved. Just because a scientist with a reputation is involved doesn't make it factual.

    Bottom line? Getting our trust is the same as earning our trust. A fancy name with PHD behind it proves nothing to me.

    So while I am sitting here eating a tomato that I grew myself, I will laugh at those who are dying at an increasing rate while eating their poisonous supermarket food. But will feel sad at the same time.

    December 3, 2009 at 4:33 pm |