Being Overweight (BMI 25 to 30) May Be Actually Healthy?

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The Washington Post is reporting a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association which finds that being overweight is not necessarily the death sentence nutrition nannies are claiming it is.

First, the JAMA study finds:

Overweight was associated with significantly decreased mortality from non-cancer, non-CVD [cardiovascular disease] causes but not associated with cancer or CVD mortality.

The Post reports:

Being overweight boosts the risk of dying from diabetes and kidney disease but not cancer or heart disease, and carrying some extra pounds actually appears to protect against a host of other causes of death, federal researchers reported yesterday.

The counterintuitive findings, based on a detailed analysis of decades of government data about more than 39,000 Americans, supports the conclusions of a study the same group did two years ago that suggested the dangers of being overweight may be less dire than experts thought.

"The take-home message is that the relationship between fat and mortality is more complicated than we tend to think," said Katherine M. Flegal, a senior research scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, who led the study. "It's not a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all situation, where excess weight just increases your mortality risk for any and all causes of death."

The study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was greeted with sharply mixed reactions. Some praised it for providing persuasive evidence that the dangers of fat have been overblown.

"What this tells us is the hazards have been very much exaggerated," said Steven N. Blair, a professor of exercise science, epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of South Carolina. "It's just not as big a problem as people have said."

While being fat may not dramatically raise mortality rates, extra weight does apparently increase disabilities among older folks.

Whole Post article here.

Read my colleague Jacob Sullum's excellent review of two books questioning the received wisdom on the dangers of being fat here.

Disclosure: My body mass index (BMI) is 26.1. Calculate yours here.

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  1. Beat you by .3, Ron.
    So…it’s not an epidemic after all? No mass die-off? No more lurid headlines?
    I’ll feel bad for all those unemployed nannies.

  2. I’ve been everywhere from 135 to 235 in my life so I’ve been what would be considered my ideal weight and I’ve had the experience of actually being my ideal weight. There is about a 10 – 15 pound difference. I’d say that my ideal weight is about 170, even though I am 5.7″.

    Here are some good examples for those who needs pictures.

  3. Crap. I link to something and the pictures decide not to show. It must be a conspiracy by big BMI.

  4. This means that in 20 years there will be clash action suits against evil big food for recklessly eliminating transfat from their food products in the early 2000s.

  5. In 100 years, the “science” driven nutrition information we have been constantly fed with breathless headlines will be looked back at with the same sort of disdain as eugenics, phrenology, and snake oil is now.

  6. I interpret my BMI of 25.1 to mean I am at my optimal weight. I could lose 10 pounds and make my stomach flatter, but my face becomes to gaunt. I don’t like staring at Skeletor in the mirror.

    Extra weight is good. Both Ron Bailey and Al Gore will tell you that man-made global warming (TM) is real. This will result in the scorching of current farmlands. Until production of food can be relocated closer to the arctic circle, there will be famine.

    My extra weight is an insurance policy against starving to death.

  7. MK thats a cool site. I’m 25.5 BMI. The “overweight” people on the site, particularly those at the lower end of the range, don’t look fat. The “Obese” people (excepting the athletes) do. The people at the low end of the “normal” and the “underweight” people look like they just got out of North Korea.

  8. While being fat may not dramatically raise mortality rates, extra weight does apparently increase disabilities among older folks.

    You see them all time scootering along. At least in Detroit, which is no longer the fattest US city, thank you. (We take crumbs when it comes to PR.)

  9. @cesar

    21.7 – funny… I don’t look North Korean.

  10. Tim-

    I was speaking more of the 17-19 range.

  11. Cool link, MK. I have to wonder, though, whether some of those people have posted pics at the weight they reported or if there are differences somewhere in there.

  12. 29.0. Apparently at 6′ 1″ and 220, I’m nearly obese. Who knew.

  13. For example, I have a tough time believing some of the height/weights on the last page.

    I doubt “This Kate” is pushing a buck seventy in that photo, and I fail to see where Coco is concealing the extra 55 lbs. over Jen at the same height.

  14. 22.0
    I don’t think this is much of a revelation. BMI is a horrible measurement anyway (body fat % is better if you ask me), and people who are just on the upper side of “normal” or on the lower side of “overweight” look perfectly normal to me.
    It’s more about what you do with your body, not what it looks like.

  15. 5’10”, 143 lbs. 20.5 BMI. I’d have figured I’d be underweight. Since I’m not, is that good news?
    Nah, BMI is like IQ, in that it doesn’t measure what it claims to.

  16. tijjer,

    Appearances can be quite deceiving when it comes to weight. I’m 5’10” and weigh 235. When weight comes up in discussions with friends, nobody would ever guess that I weigh as much as I do. They always put me at about 180ish. Same with the “carny” weight guessers at fairs – I always win 🙂

  17. My BMI is 33.7…yet i’m far from obese….

  18. 27.8 at 5′ 9″ 188 lbs. I distance run and play basketball, etc. I actually found most of the women with BMIs in the ‘overweight’ range the most attractive (although several of the ‘underweight’ and a few of the ‘obese’ women were, too).

  19. I actually found most of the women with BMIs in the ‘overweight’ range the most attractive (although several of the ‘underweight’ and a few of the ‘obese’ women were, too).

    You can reduce that sentence to “I’m a horny bastard.” 😉

  20. Based on what I’ve read in Reason, libertarianism encourages one to become a fat, chain-smoking drug addict just to spite the government. It’s a choice, I guess.

  21. Based on the comment count, Bailey is winning the battle of two separate stories based on the same source material posted within a half hour of each other.

  22. Eddie,

    Thanks for pausing your busy day of licking your own asshole clean for that useless comment. Bravo. Also, you might look up cholera in wikipedia.

  23. I have to say that BMI calculator is bogus. The only inputs are height and weight.

  24. You can reduce that sentence to “I’m a horny bastard.” 😉

    All right, you got me 🙂

  25. How the hell has something a little more descriptive than the BMI not come into use. It gets mentioned in article about fat, but the data it takes as input has nothing to do with fat. By this measure I think most of the athletes I know would be considered “overweight” despite having hardly any fat on them.

  26. In 100 years, the “science” driven nutrition information we have been constantly fed with breathless headlines will be looked back at with the same sort of disdain as eugenics, phrenology, and snake oil is now.

    I admire your optimism. I anticipate a future in which every woman is a horrifying stick figure with boobs, and every man is a roided-up beefcake with potato salad for brains.

    The Nobel Prize will be awarded for “Most Ripped Abs.”

    Someone pass the guacamole, please.

  27. Penn & Teller: Bullshit! does an excellent job of exposing the obesity scare crap. I recommend downloading it…

  28. Or maybe not potato salad, because we all know that has far too much fat in it to be healthy.

  29. I doubt “This Kate” is pushing a buck seventy in that photo, and I fail to see where Coco is concealing the extra 55 lbs. over Jen at the same height.

    You’d be surprised sometimes… frame size, musculature, and even skeletal structure can play major roles.

    For the record, I’m 6’2.5″, 245 pounds, BMI of 31.0, typically mistaken for being around 195-215. Sometimes there’s advantages to having a massive frame.

  30. You’re right, Lucas, which is why I’m skeptical. Anything from muscle to smoking could explain some of the disparity.

    Also, I notice quite a few people are not reading the entire thing, and are equating “overweight” with “obese.”

  31. I’ve always questioned the BMI. I’m 6’3″ and have to weigh under 200 pounds to keep from being “overweight.” In my mid-twenties I got scared enough to take this seriously and got my weight down to 195. I looked like crap; I was very, very thin, I lost muscular strength and (most importantly) my girl friend did not like the “heroin chic” look I had developed.

    Now I’m back to being happy, comfortable, healthy, strong and attractive to my girlfriend, even though BMI says I’m “overweight.”

  32. Since puberty, I’ve always been in the obese category (current BMI=32.5). I could stand to lose a few pounds but not as much as Nanny thinks. Most of my “excessive” weight is muscle from, you know, exercising and stuff. Seriously, how do “normal” weight people have any muscle mass?

    Obesity notwithstanding, I will be happy to demonstrate my physical fitness by running down and kicking the ass of any NIH weenie who insists I’m unhealthy.

  33. There is no frickin way that “Pippa” chick is 191#, even if she is 5’10”. She’s hot.

  34. As I was looking at those photos I noticed that I would have given the same rating to most of those pictures without knowing the stats. The overweight people looked overweight, etc..

    NFL lineman notwithstanding, BMI is a better predictor for most folks than it is given credit for. I am 6’5 and 218. That puts me at a shade over 25.8 on a very large frame (I have a 19 inch neck). According to the numbers I can be under 25 by weighing 210. There is no doubt that I lose my bellyroll somewhere around 210. I need to hit 200 to lose the belly bulge completely. This translates to a 23.7 BMI.

    At that weight I run faster, jump higher, and generally have lots more energy. Sounds about right.

  35. When I was really skinny in college my BMI was about 25.5.

    I think according to the BMI those Caloric Reduction guys who can’t get erections are considered healthy.

  36. If I was 6′ 10″………..

  37. Hardly anyone who is overweight wants to be overweight, and water should become the drink of choice for anyone who wants to become healthier. The best way to lose weight and to become healthier is to take responsibility for yourself! Our health is our most important asset. For many people, being overweight is associated with being uncomfortable in their own skin. To assist with weight control; keep a daily food journal and every time the urge to snack is felt, first drink a large glass of clear water. This simple act will help you to eat less. Water hydrates you, suppresses your appetite, helps you to feel full, and metabolizes fat cells. Water will soon become one of your best friends. The major reason so many people in America are overweight is because we eat too much for comfort! It does not hurt to treat ourselves with something special once in a while, what is necessary is that we limit our portions and do not overeat! It is also necessary to keep our body properly hydrated, so drink a full glass of water with each meal or snack. Being overweight ******, but after reading a book, I lost 85 pounds! Words can not express how good I feel! This is a comment which I recently received about the book Lose Weight Using Four Easy Steps

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