Social Question

burntbonez's avatar

Is it actually healthier to be fat?

Asked by burntbonez (5194 points ) January 3rd, 2013

A metastudy released new year’s day finds that while being obese is still associated with an increased risk of death, merely being overweight appears to reduce your likelihood of death. In this article, there is a lot of speculation about what is going on here. It goes against what the doctors thought they knew.

What do you think of this? Is this good news? Maybe we don’t have to diet so hard, any more. As long as we aren’t obese, we’re ok. Maybe even better off than those people who think they are healthy by staying at such a thin weight. Or is this another study that will be overturned one day? Could this change our attitude about overweight people?

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41 Answers

bob_'s avatar

Perhaps the extra weight helps cushion falls and stuff.

WestRiverrat's avatar

It is better to be slightly overweight than underweight. There is a difference between being mildly overweight and morbidly obese.

Patton's avatar

This is actually really old news. It is in part a consequence of the fact that the concept of “normal weight” was defined when medical science was highly resistant to the idea that someone could be underweight in the absence of obvious and serious physical or medical afflictions. It only moves the optimal BMI range a little bit upwards, though.

@WestRiverrat You are right to point out that we have to distinguish different ways of being overweight. The study goes beyond just comparing being slightly overweight to being underweight, though. It also finds that being slightly overweight (according to how the ranges are currently defined) is better than being what current medical opinion considers to be “normal weight.”

Coloma's avatar

Yes, it is true. Especially as people get older.
An extra 20–30 lbs. or so does cushion against falls and broken bones, it also is a reserve for illness. If one becomes sick, cancer or whatever and has some extra weight to lose they will not end up emaciated if they do drop weight due to illness or medical treatments.

Years ago I was very sick with kidney issues and had to have surgery. I was still in my 20’s and a very petite women. I lost about 17 lbs. in a few weeks from my illness and surgery and looked anorexic. Had I had an extra 30 lbs. as a buffer I would have come out of the ordeal healthier instead of extremely thin and weak.

JLeslie's avatar

That article, plus other things I have read, suggests to me that on average it is good to be thin and eat very nutricious food the first 50–60 years of yur life, and then as you age after that a little extra pounds can be protective.

Other studies have shown very limited calorie intake reduces disease and extends life. It is also believed that things like arteries clogging happens over time. So, if cholesterol and calcium are all kept in proper measure in the body the ⅔ of life, then having some later in life would probably be ok. Breaking a hip or getting cancer is more likely to happen later in life when some more weight can be beneficial.

Maybe all this is why our metobolism slows as we age. Nature is taking care of the needs of the body.

The study failed to say of they sorted the information by age groups.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I can’t even begin to ascertain its results when I know the categories of obese or overweight using BMI and all that have been changed several times and never to be more accurate.

rooeytoo's avatar

How often do you see really old overweight people? The oldies I meet are usually skinny as rails. I have read many times that the ethnic groups who live the longest are the ones who are slender and eat little meat.

jrpowell's avatar

I have only had one obese doctor. And I go to the doctor a lot.

Only138's avatar

If so, I may live forever. :)

poisonedantidote's avatar

You would be amazed how little it takes to be considered obese.

I eat well, I go to the gym, and if you see me standing there, my chest sticks out more than my stomach. However, according to the doctor on my last visit, I am still classified as obese, and could do with losing about 10 kilos.

I do not feel as healthy as when I was 17 years old, working out 4 to 6 hours a day, with a 6 pack and so on.

I used to be able to run up 6 flights of stairs with nothing more than a mild ache in my legs, now it takes twice as long, there is still an ache, and I get out of breath from it, age 29.

livelaughlove21's avatar

This information certainly won’t change how society feels about overweight people, so the significance may be a moot point.

I’ve always thought that thin people didn’t look as healthy as they may think they are. People who go to the gym for hours s day – what are they doing to their bodies? There’s such a thing as overdoing it. Putting that much stress on your body consistently has to wear it down after awhile.

And BMI is bogus anyways. The creator specifically said that it should not be used to measure fatness in an individual. Pop in the height and weight of a bodybuilder and it’ll say they’re morbidly obese. I don’t know why so many people rely on such a faulty calculation.

rooeytoo's avatar

I honestly go by how I feel and I personally feel best when I am lean. Less aches in the old knees and I like my clothes hanging loose. I know, not stylish but I go for comfy instead. But everyone has to do what feels best for their body. And I agree BMI can be very misleading.

jrpowell's avatar

Maybe people wouldn’t fall so much if they weren’t top-heavy.

ucme's avatar

Fat chance!

LuckyGuy's avatar

On NPR, I heard some criticism (I did not hear who the speaker was) that called the result junk. They did not control the study to exclude people in the process of dying from illnesses and wasting diseases like cancer. Many dying people are emaciated before they die. Really? Elderly are often underweight before they die. Really? Go to the nursing home and look at the number of thin vs overweight residents. Heck, besides the employees, did you see any overweight /fat/obese people in the building? Go to the active senior center. Go to senior night dance classes and look around.

The data is clear. Being grossly overweight is bad for your health. Heat disease, diabetes, etc… Insurance companies know this. Actuarial tables know this. Obese people know this. But “eat less and exercising more” is hard to do.
Anyone want to bet the person who did this “meta study” is not overweight?

Shippy's avatar

Often our idea of fat is distorted. I still think to be obese is unhealthy but some people are just built a certain way. Lifestyle is everything, and general approach to food and exercise.

JLeslie's avatar

@livelaughlove21 There actually is data showing too much exercise shortens life span. I am pretty sure the book Real Age was where I read it. Here is the website if you are interested, it says you can take a quiz. The premise of the book and site is to figure out how old you are physically compared to chronologically.

ragingloli's avatar

you keep telling yourself that

wundayatta's avatar

@LuckyGuy You’re throwing around a lot of innuendo there, and I think you’re totally dissing the study, but I want to make sure I’m not misinterpreting you. Are you saying that you think the author of the study is obese. The results of the study are wrong. Obesity and overweight are the same thing. Elderly are skinny when they die, as are people with bad illnesses and you never see any skinny residents in a nursing home? Are you saying the entire study is completely bogus? Or are you being sarcastic? As you know, it’s always hard to tell without body language.

JLeslie's avatar

@ragingloli Are you talking to mem or the OP?

Coloma's avatar

Bottom line, 90% of peoples longevity is in the genes.
My family is all over the map, from raging alcoholic and smoker that lived til 80, to active, non-drinking, non-smoking aunt that died of colon cancer at 63.
My great grandmother who was born a 2lb, 7month preemie and lived til almost 98 eating red meat 3 times a day and made cheese sandwiches on buttered bread for lunch every day.
I have also known several extreme heath and exercise freaks that dropped dead in their early 50’s from massive heart attacks WHILE exercising.

Obviously paying attention to our health is important but, we all have to die of SOMETHING, sooner or later.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@wundayatta We really do need a body language key. :-)
I did not see the details of the study. The expert interviewed on NPR was the one dissing the study. He called it “junk”. The reason he gave was their inclusion of people at various stages of end of life. That skewed the data significantly and made the study questionable. I should have given more info. For example if you go to a nursing home you will see (I’m making up the number here) 85% of the residents all have very low BM. Most of those people die within a short period. By including them, the study implied that being thin will kill you when we know ‘twas cancer and organ failure that got ‘em.
I’d say that a study of actuarial tables should be a pretty good indicator.
We can’t do anything about our genes. we have to play the cards we are dealt there. But we can control our weight.
My joke was that the person who did the study was looking for a way to justify being overweight.

Thanks for asking for the clarification.

Coloma's avatar

Does anyone remember Eubie Blake a jazz musician that lived to be 101 or something?
I read an article on his life once and he was born in coal mining country in Kentucky or W. Virginia or somewhere around there. He started smoking and drinking at age 7 and worked in the coal mines where black lung disease is a major risk.
One just never knows!

gailcalled's avatar

All of my doctors (male, as it happens) are very trim and thin. Their female nurses, with no exceptions, are very overweight. The few male nurses I have had contact with are thin.

However, I rarely make doctors’ app’ts any moreso that may have changed.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Coloma I agree, one never knows. But, if you had to bet, the smart money would not be on smoking, and obesity.
~Unless it was selling a fake miracle cure-all pill. :-)

Coloma's avatar

@LuckyGuy Agreed.
I also know a younger woman who was the picture of health at 32 and underwent a “routine” tummy tuck procedure after having two babies and she had a stroke that left her permanently disabled as a young mother. Lots of supposedly “healthy“people drop dead from relatively minor medical procedures too. Anesthesia scares the crap out of me.

dxs's avatar

I was skinny from malnutrition, and people always said to me that skinny people live longer. I didn’t care whether or not it was true, but I gained the weight anyway so I didn’t look like a skeleton. So if being overweight is healthier then it is probably not good news for me. Regarding cushioning falls, I think that if you drink your milk you won’t have to worry about breaking bones. It could be useful if it kept you warm in the cold, however.

wundayatta's avatar

@LuckyGuy I haven’t read the whole study, but I would be very surprised if they hadn’t adjusted for age and other factors that would be relevant, like being really sick.

mattbrowne's avatar

There is increasing evidence that regular exercise is more significant for our long-term health than being slightly overweight. Obese people can’t exercise properly and therefore have a problem.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@wundayatta I think that is why some are calling it a junk study. It was a meta-study of other studies, all of which had different intents and purposes.

In the newspaper today 1/7/2013 there was an article by Neergaard and Agiesta of Assoc Press, entitled “Poll: Few know all risks of obesity.”
They stated that most people are aware that obesity damages our health by increasing heart disease and diabetes. However, most are not aware of the other areas:
1) Only 7% knew that “fat increases risk of developing cancer of the colon, breast, prostate, uterus. Plus being overweight makes it harder to spot tumors early and to treat them.”
2) Joint damage especially the knees. – “15% knew that obesity can contribute to arthritis.”
3) 5% knew about respiratory problems . “Studies show people who are overweight are at increased risk of sleep apnea and asthma and dripping a few pounds can help improve their symptoms.”
4) Other issues: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, strokes and infertility.

If you can get up out of your chair right now and run ½ mile go ahead, have another doughnut.
If you can’t, for any reason, feel free to eat as much as you want but don’t expect me to pay your medical bills.

Our food intake and exercise are well proven to be major factors in our everyday health and longevity. Both of them are 100% within our control.

This is the only life we have. Why would anyone want to spend it lugging around extra weight?

Patton's avatar

@mattbrowne What do you mean when you say obese people can’t exercise properly? What constitutes proper exercise is relative to what sort of body one has and what one’s needs are, and body size does not determine stamina. Since weight loss is predominately a matter of diet, with exercise only an aid, it’s possible for an obese person to exercise a lot and remain obese.

mattbrowne's avatar

There are very few options for very obese people to avoid damage to their knees and joints as well as their hearts. One thing that works is mild exercise in a swimming pool. The water reduces the effect of the weight.

Patton's avatar

@mattbrowne So they can exercise properly. It’s just that what constitutes proper exercise is different. Which is what I said.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Patton – It has to be seen as a workaround, not proper exercise. When you are briskly walking uphill you burn a lot of calories. When very obese people move their arms and legs in water they are not burning as much calories, but it’s all their hearts and joints can take. The more they lose weight, the more normal the exercise can become.

Patton's avatar

@mattbrowne But like I already said, what constitutes “proper exercise” is relative. So it should not be seen as a workaround. What’s proper exercise for you might not be proper exercise for me. If an obese person is doing all they can for their body type, it’s just prejudice to say they aren’t exercising properly.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Patton – I said they can’t exercise properly. Again, moving arms and legs underwater is not proper exercise. It’s a workaround to limit the damage and when combined with reduced caloric intake to slowly lose weight, so that if successful at some point in the future health-sustaining effective exercise becomes possible. Obesity is a serious medical condition, not a body type. The workaround exercise is a form of therapy for the treatment of obesity.

Physical exercise, on the other hand, “is any bodily activity that enhances or maintains physical fitness and overall health and wellness. It is performed for various reasons including strengthening muscles and the cardiovascular system, honing athletic skills, weight loss or maintenance, as well as for the purpose of enjoyment. Frequent and regular physical exercise boosts the immune system, and helps prevent diseases”.

Patton's avatar

@mattbrowne I know what you said. I’m saying you’re wrong. “Proper exercise” is relative. Moving arms and legs underwater is proper exercise relative to certain body types. You know how I know? Because if certain people did more than that it would be bad for them. In other words, it would be improper exercise for them to do more.

And obesity is both a medical condition and a body type. Your body type, or body shape, is whatever sort of body you have. Everyone’s body is a body type. But just because obesity is a medical condition doesn’t mean your prejudice against obese people is okay. Lupus is a medical condition, too, but we don’t blame anyone for having it.

whitenoise's avatar

@mattbrowne @Patton
You guys realize you are not even discussing the topic anymore, but merely disagree on semantics?

mattbrowne's avatar

Let’s agree we disagree and return to the topic. Here’s a new angle:

During severe crises and prolonged extreme conditions it can be healthy to be fat. A good example are the first human beings who reached Australia. They had the genes to store fat easily to help provide energy when there was little food while crossing the ocean.

Patton's avatar

@whitenoise Yes, I realize that we weren’t discussing the topic. I find it worthwhile to take a detour to point out prejudice when it crops up. Prejudice often hides behind semantics, to the point that it is promoted by people who aren’t explicitly prejudiced. That’s why it’s so nefarious. I don’t think @mattbrowne is an anti-fat chauvinist, but his choice of words is influenced by the undercurrent of anti-fat sentiment that permeates a lot of modern culture.

mattbrowne's avatar

Prejudices refer to unfounded beliefs such as men are smarter than women or older employees are less creative than younger employees. Such unfavorable judgments are not acceptable. However, I do not share the view that body weight is just a matter diversity. Up to a point it is, of course, and genes are a key driver. Beyond that we have to acknowledge that something seriously went wrong in our modern societies. Our hunter-gatherer brains are not made for bucket-size popcorn or XXL fast food menus. Obesity is a disease and not a life-style option. This has nothing to do with an anti-fat sentiment. The same goes for the fashion industry glorifying super-skinny models. Anorexia nervosa is a disease and not a cool life-style option. People’s lives are at stakes here. Who wants his feet amputated because of diabetes?

So for obese people pretending that they simply have to choose a different type out of the normal exercise spectrum sends the wrong message. We have to reach the people before they become obese at a point while they can still help themselves. Dan and Chip Heath wrote an excellent book called ‘Switch’ and they point out: What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. Movie theaters can be convinced to get rid of large buckets of popcorn.

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