Study suggests that obesity might be ‘healthy’ after all

In previous posts (such as here and here) I have written about how the impact of ‘excess’ weight on health seems to have been, well, overstated in both men and women. More evidence to this effect emerged this week on the publication of a study of nearly 7000 American men with an average age of 58. The study, conducted in California and published in the American Journal of Medicine, assessed the health of men who had been referred for the investigation of possible heart disease. The study participants were assessed through, amongst other things, a weigh-in and fitness testing, after which they were followed for an average of 7½ years.

Over this period, about a quarter of the men died. The researchers then looked at the risk of death between different ‘bandings’ of weight. Compared to individuals in the ‘healthy’ weight category (body mass index 18.5-24.9), individuals in the ‘obese’ category (BMI 30 or more) were 22 per cent less likely to die over time of follow-up. And this reduction in risk was found to be statistically significant.

It is possible that individuals who are obese are, compared to slimmer individuals, more likely to be unfit and have other risk factors for heart disease such as diabetes. When the researchers accounted for such factors (in an effort to make weight the only differentiating factor between the groups) the obese men were found to be at a 35 per cent reduced risk of death compared to their considerably slimmer counterparts.

The study authors are keen to point out that the results of this study are not a mandate for the encouragement of obesity. They say that this group consisted of older men with symptoms of heart disease, and therefore do not know whether the results are applicable to the population at large.

I suppose that’s fair enough, but whichever way you look at this most recent research, it seems yet again to suggest that the body mass index is pretty hopeless as a marker for health.

For more on why the BMI is fatally flawed as a health measure, see here.


1. McAuley P, et al. Body mass, fitness and survival in veteran patients: another obesity paradox? The American Journal of Medicine. 2007 120(6):518-524

6 Responses to Study suggests that obesity might be ‘healthy’ after all

  1. John Spottiswoode 15 June 2007 at 12:24 pm #

    Could this be related to the fact that our foods that mainly come from intensive farms hold fewer and fewer key nutrients (mainly minerals). Therefore people of a ‘normal’ weight tend to have nutrient deficiencies in certain areas, particularly those who diet successfully.

  2. Bo Piltson 15 June 2007 at 1:57 pm #

    This seems to tie in nicely with the argument by Paul Campos in “The Obesity Myth” a few years ago. He has been seen as a crank. What can one do to bring media attention to studies like this? It seems that as soon as the results of a study do not fit the current folklore, editors will reject it as impossible nonsense without a second look.

  3. Richard Lee 16 June 2007 at 8:57 am #

    I will look forward to reading this paper. Haven’t similar findings been published before?
    It is also pleasing to see longevity added to the already long list of fat middle-aged blokes’ good qualities.

  4. chris 17 June 2007 at 9:29 am #

    oh dear i hate papers like this – i just look at the mobilty problems, the anxiety I see every day – its obviously not looking at that! There are always people who are reasonably fit when they are overwt but the problems I see as they get older! I havent read the paper yet but in real life not sure i would agree!

  5. helen 17 June 2007 at 10:44 pm #

    Yet they still continue to use the BMI as a tool to deny over weight people the chance to adopt children!! When will the moral busybodies learn?

  6. chris 18 June 2007 at 5:19 pm #

    doctors do tend to use them and in gp surgeries they are automatically calculated if they are using computerised notes – think u will find that dietitians don’t tend to use them but use an array of tools – body fat, etc.

    I agree they are a tool that is poorly used – some of my athletes are clinically obese acc to bmi – when clearly they are not lol!

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