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Press Releases: National

June 23, 2009

Underweight and Extremely Obese Die Earlier than People of Normal Weight, Study Finds

A little extra weight may protect people from early death

PORTLAND, Ore. — Underweight people and those who are extremely obese die earlier than people of normal weight — but those who are overweight actually live longer than people of normal weight. Those are the findings of a new study published online in Obesity by researchers at Statistics Canada, Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, Portland State University, Oregon Health & Science University, and McGill University.

"It’s not surprising that extreme underweight and extreme obesity increase the risk of dying, but it is surprising that carrying a little extra weight may give people a longevity advantage," said David Feeny, Ph.D., coauthor of the study and senior investigator for the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research.

"It may be that a few extra pounds actually protect older people as their health declines, but that doesn’t mean that people in the normal weight range should try to put on a few pounds," said Mark Kaplan, DrPH, coauthor and professor of Community Health at Portland State University. "Our study only looked at mortality, not at quality of life, and there are many negative health consequences associated with obesity, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes."

Underweight and Extremely Obese Die Earlier than 
People of Normal Weight, Study Finds Colors apply to both charts

"Good health is more than a BMI or a number on a scale. We know that people who choose a healthy lifestyle enjoy better health: good food choices, being physically active everyday, managing stress, and keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels in check,"said Keith Bachman MD, a weight management specialist with Kaiser Permanente’s Care Management Institute.

The study examined the relationship between body mass index and death among 11,326 adults in Canada over a 12-year period. (BMI uses height and weight to estimate body fat.) Researchers found that underweight people had the highest risk of dying, and the extremely obese had the second highest risk. Overweight people had a lower risk of dying than those of normal weight.

This is the first large Canadian study to show that people who are overweight may actually live longer than those of normal weight. An earlier study, conducted in the United States and published in 2005 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed similar results.

For this study, researchers used data from the National Population Health Survey conducted by Statistics Canada every two years. During the study period, from 1994 – 95 through 2006 – 07, underweight people were 70 percent more likely than people of normal weight to die, and extremely obese people were 36 percent more likely to die. But overweight individuals were 17 percent less likely to die. The relative risk for obese people was nearly the same as for people of normal weight. The authors controlled for factors such as age, sex, physical activity, and smoking.

The study was funded by grants from the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Authors include: Heather Orpana, Ph.D., Statistics Canada; JM Berthelot, Canadian Institute for Health Information and McGill University; Mark Kaplan, DrPH, Portland State University, David Feeny, Ph.D., Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research; Bentson H. McFarland, MD, Ph.D., Oregon Health & Science University and Nancy Ross, Ph.D., McGill University.

If you want to know more about health risks related to your weight and BMI, ask your doctor or get more information at kp.org/weight.

About the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research (http://www.kpchr.org)
Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research, founded in 1964, is a nonprofit research institution dedicated to advancing knowledge to improve health. It has research sites in Portland, Ore., Honolulu, Hawaii and Atlanta.

About Portland State University
Portland State University serves as a center of opportunity for over 27,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The University’s innovative approach to education combines academic rigor in the classroom with field-based experiences through internships and classroom projects with community partners. The University’s 47-acre downtown campus exhibits Portland State’s commitment to sustainability with green buildings, while many of the 125 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees incorporate sustainability into the curriculum.

About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve 8.6 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: www.kp.org/newscenter.