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Healthy obese people may live as long as their slimmer counterparts

BOOSTER SHOTS: Oddities, musings and news from the
health world

August 15, 2011
  • Obese people may live as long as their normal weight peers if they are healthy and get exercise
Obese people may live as long as their normal weight peers if they are healthy… (Paul Ellis / AFP/Getty Images )

Can a fat body be a healthy body? Using a new grading tool that takes health issues into account in addition to body mass index, it may be possible for healthy obese people to have the same lifespan as normal-weight people.

The findings were released Monday in a study in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. Researchers looked at data on 6,224 obese men and women who were followed on average for about 16 years. The participants were part of the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study who attended the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas. Their mortality risk was compared with that of a group of 23,309 normal-weight people.

In addition to completing surveys on health history, dietary habits, weight and weight loss, the participants also underwent a standard medical exam, had their blood pressure taken and fasting blood work done, and completed a treadmill exercise test.

Researchers used the Edmonton Obesity Staging System, a five-stage grading tool for determining who should lose weight, based on health risks from other diseases and conditions such as cancer and heart disease. Using this system, those in stages 0 or 1 may be so healthy they may not need to lose weight since their health issues are minimal.

In the study, those in stages 0 or 1 on the EOSS scale were not at a higher risk of death compared with their normal-weight counterparts. Being in stages 2 and 3 was linked with a higher risk of death from all causes, as well as death from cardiovascular disease and chronic heart disease compared with those who were normal weight.

This group also weighed more as young adults, were OK with being overweight, hadn't dieted that much during their lives and were more apt to be physically active and eat healthfully.

In the study, the authors argue that this system improves upon measures that calculate risk such as metabolic syndrome or insulin sensitivity, since those don't seem to distinguish mortality risk in obese people.

"Our findings challenge the idea that all obese individuals need to lose weight," says lead author Jennifer Kuk of York University in Toronto, Canada, in a news release.

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