In a time where pop culture, lawmakers, and insurance companies have all done their best to instill a phobia of extra pounds and becoming overweight, it's easy to forget that the heavier population actually enjoy a number of perks that skinny people don't.
A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association recently found that while being overweight may indeed lead to a heightened risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary heart disease, those additional pounds also come with a slew of health benefits. Together, these lower the risk of dying from any cause by about 6 percent.
Another study, conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that a body mass index (BMI) within the overweight range — 25 to 29.9 — may extend your life span. These findings were based on data from 97 previous studies, examining nearly three million adults. According to study co-author Dr. Brian Kit, a number of factors are behind these statistics.
"When you're sick, your body may require more energy to heal properly," he told reporters from The Oprah Magazine. "To some extent, extra fat can provide a crucial boost so you can bounce back faster."
Kit notes that fat tissue as well as the hormones it releases improve bodily defense mechanisms by supplying energy reserves and anti-inflammatory agents. Thus, even though overweight people are more likely to develop serious health issues, normal and underweight people are much more likely to die from them. When it comes to heart disease, for example, a patient with a low percentage of body fat is more than four times as likely to die from the condition as an overweight patient with the same diagnosis.
What's more, overweight people generally receive better medical care their skinny peers. According to a study in The American Journal of Cardiology, the perceived risks of being overweight tend to influence medical courses of action. When caring for heavier patients, doctors appear to be much more aggressive and proactive in their treatment.
"If you compare obese people with hypertension and thinner people with hypertension, you'll find that more of the obese people are prescribed medication for it," Kit explains.
Being Overweight Can Make You Longer, But Not Necessarily Better
That being said, excessive fat undoubtedly takes its toll on the body, and even though being overweight boosts the body's defense and increases lifespan, those additional years may be marked by chronic illness and a subsequent dependence on prescription drugs.
By focusing exclusively on longevity, these studies take health to denote a quantitative value. Until we're able to measure formally the overall quality of life, it may be best to keep the weight gain within moderation.
Source: Flegal KM, Kit BK, Orpana H, Graubard BI. Association of All-Cause Mortality With Overweight and Obesity Using Standard Body Mass Index Categories: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA. 2013.