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How Dangerous Are Those Extra Pounds?

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Americans are being urged to shed pounds, but a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that a little extra weight may offer unexpected health benefits. For the last several decades, health experts have been warning that obesity increases the likelihood of early death. A systematic review of 97 studies involving roughly 3 million individuals throws that assumption into question.

The researchers used Body Mass Index or ">BMI to make comparisons between studies. They found that significant obesity was linked to a higher rate of premature death, but surprisingly, overweight was associated with a lower likelihood of dying during the study period. The BMI for overweight people went from 25 to just under 30, while normal weight is defined as a BMI from 18.5 to just under 25. Obesity is clearly associated with health risks such as arthritis, diabetes and other chronic conditions, but moderate overweight may not be as dangerous as previously believed.

[Journal of the American Medical Association, Jan. 2, 2013]

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To be balanced, here's what Walter Willett, Chair of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health says: "This study is really a pile of rubbish and no one should waste their time reading it."

"Willett says it's not helpful to look simply at how peoples BMIs, body mass index, influence their risk of death — as this paper did without knowing something about people's health or fitness. Some people are thin because they're ill, so of course they're at higher risk of dying. The study doesn't tease this apart.

Also, he says the analysis does not address the bigger, more important issues of quality of life. If an overweight person does live longer — is he or she living with chronic diseases?

"We have a huge amount of other literature showing that people who gain weight or are overweight, have increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, many cancers and many other conditions," Willett says.

For those of you who want to know whether your body weight is a problem, Willett says rather than comparing your BMI to those around you, think about what you weighed when you were 20 years old.

"For most people, our ideal weight, if we weren't seriously overweight at age 20, is about what we weighed then," Willett says. That's why weight change is a good number to keep an eye on because it can be an early warning sign," that you're on the path to more weight gain."

Body mass index seems to be a dumb way to measure "health" since your "extra weight" could come from very dense bones or muscle mass as well as from extra fat. I am 64. When I was in my forties I read that "short, stocky women with big thighs" tend to live the longest. "News" seems to cycle and be called a new discovery.

This reinforces what my mother used to say. She said as people age they need to be slightly overweight in case they get cancer or some other sickness. She said we all need a little reserve to subsist on when we can't eat!

I started thinking that maybe that is why nature slows our metabolism after we reach a certain age so we can gain that "reserve."

I am very skeptical of this study, which may be realiable but over the years we have view data since late 1960 and I believe weight watch, consume fat free diet and excercise should not be lost while we debate this issue.

Thank you.

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY RESPONSE:

The fat-free craze of the '80s & 90s has been pretty much debunked. We substituted sugar and carbs for fat and that has done us a great deal of harm. The kind of fat does matter...though saturated fat may not be the great villain everyone has been told. If you look at actual research over the last several years you will be astonished to learn that people who eat a low-carb higher fat diet have better lipid levels than those following a low-fat high-carb approach.

We know this flies in the face of a lot of belief...but data trump belief in our opinion.

About weight control and risk of death, believe your own eyes.

Think about all the people you know. Line them up mentally by age, younger folks on one side, older folks on the other. Now look at them and think about what they might weigh, or even better, how fit they are.

You will find very few obese folks over 60. You will not find many overweight folks over 70. And most of the folks over 80 will be relatively slender, and they will likely be fairly active.

There are no guarantees in life, but you can influence the odds.

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