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Global Commentary
Thursday, 21 April 2005
Obesity and mortality
Topic: Health
A new study has found that obesity is not as dangerous as previously thought.

Researchers from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that both obesity and being underweight are associated with excess deaths when compared with the normal weight population.

There were 112,000 more deaths than expected among obese individuals, that is, those with body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. Among underweight individuals -- those with BMI of less than 18.5 -- there were nearly 34,000 more deaths than expected. However, while most of the excess deaths among the underweight occurred in people age 70 or older, most of the excess deaths among the obese occurred in people younger than 70.

Being slightly overweight -- BMI of 25-29.9 -- was not associated with excess mortality. In fact, the study found 87,000 fewer deaths than expected among those in this BMI range.

Another study by researchers from CDC found that cardiovascular disease risk factors in the US have declined, regardless of BMI. The exception was diabetes, which has increased by 55 percent over the past 40 years.

These studies appear in the 20 April 2005 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Most reports on the study linking obesity and mortality have highlighted the fact that it shows that the risk of death from being overweight has been overestimated. Times Online, however, entitled its report on the study "If you want to live longer - put on weight". This seems unwarranted.

First of all, whether putting on weight is healthy depends on your starting weight. Obesity is still associated with higher death risk.

Secondly, it may be premature to make recommendations based on this study. No one study can be conclusive. The findings need to be replicated in other studies to eliminate the possibility of flaws in the study. With so many factors affecting health and mortality rates, failure to properly account for any factor can have an impact on the overall result. After all, CDC itself had earlier put out a report that predicted a much higher mortality rate from obesity, which, in the light of the findings from the new study, is leading to some controversy in the United States (see the report "Stonewalling: Why Won’t The CDC Endorse New Obesity Deaths Figure?")

In any case, as the Times Online itself wrote, quoting Nigel Hawkes, The Times health editor: "Despite its breadth, the conclusions of the report are limited. It looked only at deaths, not at disease or disability which generally increase with weight".

Posted by lim_cs at 3:25 PM JST | post your comment (0) | link to this post

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