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Overweight People Live Just As Long

Weight and Longevity


Updated May 08, 2008

How important is weight to life expectancy and long-term health? I would assume that weight is an important factor in long-term health and longevity, wouldn’t you? Turns out that the picture is much more complicated.

Researchers wanted to know how much weight, and being overweight, impacts future health. What they found was a big surprise: being slightly overweight did not seem to impact long-term health (slightly overweight was defined as BMI less than 30). In fact, in some cases, people who were overweight had the healthiest outcomes.

Using data from a survey of 5,888 adults aged 65 of older, researchers examined weight at age 65 and health outcomes years later. They used life tables and other life expectancy data to create projections of the participants’ total life expectancy and healthy life expectancy. Here’s what they found:

  • women who are healthy and at a normal weight at age 65 can expect to live, on average, an additional 22.1 years.
  • of those 22.1 years, they will be (on average) overweight for 9.6 of them and have 5.3 years in poor health.
  • being underweight at age 65, for both men and women, was associated with poor health later in life.
  • being overweight at age 65 was only rarely linked to poor health.
Frankly, I’m not sure what to make of this study. It would suggest that being overweight at 65 doesn’t really matter much, though I have a hard time believing that. I think part of the problem is that with 70% of the country being overweight, comparing people to “average” or “normal” doesn’t really work anymore. The study also did not look at people who were very overweight or obese (a whole different set of health issues). What we need to think about is what the optimal, best-case situation is. It could be that weight plays a bigger role in ages 80+ (something not examined by this study) or that that assumptions made by the statisticians were not valid.

What we can be pretty sure of is that being underweight is bad and that being overweight is (perhaps) not as bad as we think. But if you want the safest answer, being normal weight is still your best bet.

Ideas for Painless Weight Loss


Paula Diehr PhD, Ellen S. O'Meara PhD, Annette Fitzpatrick PhD, Anne B. Newman MD, MPH, Lewis Kuller MD, Gregory Burke MD, MS (2008) Weight, Mortality, Years of Healthy Life, and Active Life Expectancy in Older Adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 56 (1) , 76–83.

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