New England Journal of Medicine: Overweight Contributes to Mortality

Last year some researchers found that being slightly overweight actually lowered the risk of death. Kenneth Chang reports in today's New York Times that two new, larger studies tell a different tale: being even slightly overweight can increase mortality.
The researchers said the more telling analysis arose when they focused on 186,000 healthy men and women who had never smoked. Among men and women, being overweight raised the risk of death 20 percent to 40 percent compared with normal-weight people, the researchers said...

Researchers have almost universally found that obese people have considerable health risks. But there has been debate over whether someone who is less severely overweight is at a greater risk of illness. Other factors, especially smoking, can complicate analysis of the data. Smoking greatly increases the chances of deadly lung diseases, but smokers tend to weigh less.

“No single study is able to solve a controversy of this magnitude,” Dr. Leitzmann said, but he recommended that anyone overweight “should be looking to lose weight.”

A second study by researchers at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, and Johns Hopkins University looked at 1.2 million Koreans ages 30 to 95 and followed them for 12 years. The researchers looked at 82,372 deaths and correlated them with the body mass index. They found, too, that risk of death and cancer increased in people who were overweight, but not obese.
Both studies have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine. You can read both the American and Korean studies online.

As we have blogged about before, Dr. Fuhrman has long been citing the work of Harvard's Dr. I-Min Lee--who studied nearly 20,000 men over nearly thirty years. She found that you practically can not be too thin: the lightest group of men had the lowest mortality. (Of course, he cautions, there is such a thing as being too thin, which is usually anorexia.)
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