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Special Issue: My Professional Reaction to New Obesity Study

February 20, 2013 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

You might have seen the headlines about a new study showing people who are overweight live longer.  Now you may be wondering if you should bother with dieting or eating carefully. If extra weight extends life, why not whatever you want, whenever you like?

Not so fast. As a practicing physician, I see the real life consequences of being overweight every day, including conditions like heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes and pre-diabetes, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, digestive disorders, and a long list of other problems. And I’ve written extensively about how extra weight damages your health. That’s why I want you to know the whole truth about the “overweight people live longer” study, because you won’t see this in the popular press.

Let’s look at the notion that people who are overweight live longer. This is misleading for several reasons.

First, the decrease in mortality was only 6%, which is a very small, almost negligible number.

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Second, as the authors note, one reason for the decrease in deaths was that overweight people go to the doctor more often, so when something goes wrong, it’s likely to be noticed by a physician. Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room!  Doesn’t anyone wonder why these individuals go to the doctor more often? Because they have serious chronic health conditions due, at least in part, to being overweight!

Third, as a number of medical experts have pointed out, unhealthy people who are thin, possibly because they’re sick with cancer or another ailment that causes weight loss, were included in the normal weight category. (This was a review of previously published work, so the authors had no say in who was included.)  Including terminally ill people who are often underweight really skews the results.

Finally, let’s not forget that the study also found a whopping 29% increase in death for people who are morbidly obese (with a BMI of 35 or more). That’s nearly 5 times the tiny decrease in death risk among the overweight.  I haven’t seen that mentioned in any of the news stories.

Bottom line: please don’t be misled by this type of research. Excess weight is not your friend, so stick with your healthy eating resolutions. None of my patients who have lost weight have ever regretted it. In fact, they are thrilled with how they look and feel!

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