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Being just overweight, not obese, still shortens lifespan

Posted Dec 09 2010 8:00am

It is becoming more widely known that obesity can lead to a premature death – but what about those who fall in between healthy weight and obese?  A new study suggests that even “a few extra pounds” can be dangerous.

This comes just a few months after a large study that concluded that waist circumference was associated with risk of death from all causes. These two studies used different methods of measurement, but they agree on a very important point – even a small amount of excess weight increases the risk of death. In the waist circumference study , even people who had a normal body mass index (BMI; calculated based on height and weight) were at greater risk of death if they had a 4-inch larger waist compared to others in their BMI category – that four extra inches of abdominal fat translated into a 16% (men) and 25% (women) increase in mortality risk over a nine year period.

Last week, another article was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in which the researchers analyzed risk of death from all causes according to BMI . The data they analyzed came from 19 different studies and included 1.46 million people across the U.S., Europe and Australia. The results were dramatic. The risk of death from all causes was elevated just above the ‘normal’ BMI category and continued to climb as BMI increased. Those who were overweight but not obese were still at risk.

Compared to individuals with BMI of 20-24.9, the increased risk of death was

  • 13% for those with BMI 25.0-29.9
  • 44% for those with BMI 30.0-34.9
  • 88% for those with BMI 35.0-39.9
  • 251% for those with BMI 40.0-49.9[1]

Of course, the risk is greater with more excess weight, but the key finding is that even with a moderate amount of excess weight, there is a significant increase in the risk of death.

Sixty-eight percent of Americans are overweight or obese, and about half of this group fall into the overweight but not obese category. These studies would therefore suggest that 68% of Americans are dying prematurely because of their excess weight. The prevalence of processed foods and junk food has gotten most Americans completely out of touch with hunger and satiety signals. Nutrient-dense eating, resulting in the recognition of true hunger , is an effective method for reaching and maintaining a healthy weight .


Reference 1. Berrington de Gonzalez, A., et al., Body-mass index and mortality among 1.46 million white adults. N Engl J Med, 2010. 363(23): p. 2211-9.


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