Do extra pounds make you live longer?

January 7, 2013 —

Recent research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association sounds like the perfect post-holiday gift to anyone who resembles Santa a bit more than prior to the season of celebrations: A review of 97 studies involving a combined 2.88 million people on the relationship between body weight and death risk concluded that overall, people who carry a few extra pounds tend to live longer than those who are either normal weight or very obese.

Katherine Flegal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the review’s researchers, said that people with a body mass index (BMI) under 30 but above normal have a 6 percent decreased risk of death of all causes. “It’s statistically significant,” she told National Public Radio.

Don't make a beeline to the bon bons yet.

Don’t make a beeline to the bon bons yet.

Before you make a beeline to the bon bons, though, the research comes with caveats. People considered obese based on BMI were about 18 percent more likely to die of any cause compared to normal-weight  individuals. The review also only considered the link between death and body size; it didn’t include other health measures possibly related to weight. Its focus on BMI led Walter Willett, an epidemiologist with the Harvard School of Public Health, to call the study “really a pile of rubbish,” adding that “no one should waste their time reading it.”

Flegal acknowledges that the study shouldn’t tell people to stop eating healthfully and exercising. “It’s not intended as a call to any kind of action,” she said.

In that sense, the study’s call to action seems to be further study on the impact of weight and lifestyle on people’s health.


Endlessly curious and easily entertained, Barb Dietrich Boose loves being a member of the friendly, fascinating DMU community and its creative communications team. The University's publications director and DMU Magazine editor, Barb is always on the hunt for story ideas, good books and new recipes to try out on her family, such as her surprisingly tasty pork-and-bean bars.