Study shows a few extra pounds might help you live longer

At a time when many are in the early phases of new year’s resolutions to lose weight, a new study indicates that you might actually want to hang on to at least a couple of those extra pounds.

An article, slated to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, has raised eyebrows by showing that those who are slightly overweight live long than their svelter counterparts. However, the research also shows that being obese brings with it a significantly higher risk of death than normal weight.

At least one local doctor said, if nothing else, the article proves that diet and weight are complicated topics. “It is a bit surprising,” said Dr. Steven Kunkes of Cardiac Specialists, which has offices in Fairfield, Milford, Shelton and Trumbull. “It shows that, no matter how sophisticated we are with medical care, we still are not totally clear on diet and weight.”

The JAMA findings are the result of analyzing nearly 100 studies that involved about 3 million adults. The research looked at the mortality rate of being at a normal weight, being overweight and being obese. What category someone falls into is based on his or her body mass index, a number calculated using one’s height and weight.

“Normal” weight is a BMI under 25. Those who are overweight have a BMI between 25 and 30 and those who are obese have a BMI of 30 or above. Researchers found that there was a 6 percent lower risk of premature death for those who are overweight, and a 18 percent higher risk of premature death for those who are obese. However, those who are slightly obese — with a BMI between 30 and 35 — did have a 5 percent lower risk of death.

Kunkes said it’s unclear why some extra pounds might help you live longer, though he has theories. For instance, he said, those with a “reserve” of fat sometimes do better after surgery or a severe illness than those who are very skinny. Though the JAMA study is a little bit of a curveball, Kunkes said, “this is not a license to make yourself fat and not watch your diet.”

At least one other doctor agreed that this doesn’t mean that a lot of extra weight is healthy. Dr. Stuart Zarich, Bridgeport Hospital’s chief of cardiology, said those who are obese are at greater risk for many health problems, including cancer and heart disease. Also, he pointed out, it’s possible to be in good shape and have a BMI that indicates that you’re “overweight.” For instance, Zarich said, many professional athletes are considered overweight. “The BMI doesn’t tell the whole story,” he said.

Like Kunkes, he said, the findings aren’t excuse for neglecting good diet and exercise habits. “This is the kind of stuff that gives people the wrong idea,” Zarich said.

Amanda Cuda