Surprise, Lean People Live Longer

In the Nurses Health Study, researchers examined the association between body mass index and overall mortality and mortality from specific causes in more than 100,000 women. After limiting the analysis to nonsmokers, it was very clear that the longest-lived women were the leanest.1 The researchers concluded that the increasingly permissive U.S. weight guidelines are unjustified and potentially harmful.

Dr. I-Min Lee, of the Harvard School of Public Health, said her twenty-seven-year study of 19,297 men found there was no such thing as being too thin. Among men who never smoked, the lowest mortality occurred in the lightest fifth.2 Those who were in the thinnest 20 percent in the early 1960s were two and a half times less likely to have died of cardiovascular disease by 1988 than those in the heaviest fifth. Overall, the thinnest were two–thirds more likely to be alive in 1988 than the heaviest. Lee stated, “We observed a direct relationship between body weight and mortality. By that I mean that the thinnest fifth of men experienced the lowest mortality, and mortality increased progressively with heavier and heavier weight.” The point is not to judge your ideal weight by traditional weight-loss tables, which are based on Americans’ overweight averages. After carefully examining the twenty-five major studies available on the subject, I have found that the evidence indicates that optimal weight, as determined by who lives the longest, occurs at weights at least 10 percent below the average body-weight tables.3 Most weight guideline charts still place the public at risk by reinforcing an unhealthy overweight standard. By my calculations, it is not merely 75 percent of Americans that are overweight, it is more like 85 percent.
1. Manson, J. E., W. C. Willett, M. J. Stampfer, et al. 1995. Body weight and mortality among women. N. Eng. J. Med. 333: 677–85.

2. Lee, I., J. E. Manson, C. H. Hennekens, and R. S. Paffenbarger. 1993. Body weight and mortality: a 27-year follow-up of middle-aged men. JAMA 270 (23): 2823–28.

3. Manson, J. E., M. J. Stampfer, C. H. Hennekens, et al. 1987. Body weight and longevity — a reassessment. JAMA 257: 353–58.
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