Maintaining a Healthy Weight Will Help You Live Longer

Maintaining a Healthy Weight Will Help You Live Longer
Dr. Fuhrman

We all know that being overweight is not good for our health, but many people are surprised to learn that even a few extra pounds can be a cause for concern. Studies have found that even a small amount of excess weight increases the risk of premature death.

In a large multi-national study, researchers analyzed the risk of mortality from all causes according to a person’s body mass index or BMI. An individual’s BMI is an approximation of body fat based on weight in relation to height.

 A BMI above 25 is considered overweight and at risk for health complications. In the study, investigators analyzed data from 1.46 million people in 19 countries, finding that the risk of mortality was elevated for those whose BMI was just above the normal range, and continued to escalate as BMI increased. Those who were overweight, but not yet obese, were still at risk.

Compared to individuals with BMI of 20-24.9, the increased risk of death was:

  • 13 percent higher for those with BMI 25.0-29.9
  • 44 percent higher for those with BMI 30.0-34.9
  • 88 percent higher for those with BMI 35.0-39.9
  • 251 percent higher for those with BMI 40.0-49.9

Obviously, the risk is greatest for those with the most excess weight, but the key finding is that even with a moderate amount of excess weight, there is a significant health risk.

Abdominal Fat is a Significant Risk Factor

In addition to BMI, waist size is also used to indicate body fat and ill-health.

In another large study following 100,000 individuals for nine years, it was found that even people who had a normal body mass index (BMI), which is calculated based on height and weight, were at a greater risk of dying if they had a waist that was four inches larger than others in their BMI category.

Those four inches of abdominal fat translated into an increased risk for mortality of 16 percent for men and a 25 percent for women over a nine-year period. This means that excess fat around the waist is a significant risk even in “so-called” normal weight individuals, suggesting that the size of one’s waist is even more important than the number on the scale. This investigation also found that very large waist circumferences of 47 inches for men and 40 inches for women doubled the risk of death from all causes.

The Link Between Body Fat Distribution and Disease

The size of one’s waist is of interest to researchers because it has been shown to be related to increased deposits of visceral fat. This type of fat is more deleterious to your health than subcutaneous fat. The exact mechanisms of why this is remains unclear, but it is known that these two types of fat have different gene expression profiles and that visceral fat more frequently promotes inflammation and hormones  that contribute to chronic diseases. Indeed, waist circumference has been associated with, elevated cholesterol, sleep apnea, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. The size of your waist may be the best indicator of disease risk related to excess weight.

Maintain a Healthy Weight to Increase Longevity                    

Any excess fat on the body is harmful since it increases insulin levels, promotes inflammation and makes the heart work harder. Excess weight may also cause the body to age more quickly. Leukocyte (white blood cell) telomere length, an indicator of biological aging, was found in an analysis of 16 studies to be inversely associated with BMI. A higher BMI was associated with shorter telomeres. Telomeres are DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes, which are shortened with each cell division. The enzyme telomerase lengthens telomeres, helping to compensate for the shortening.

A combination of genetic and lifestyle factors determine how quickly telomeres shorten; healthy lifestyle factors, like exercise and vegetable intake are associated with longer telomeres.

Since more than 68 percent of Americans are considered either overweight or obese, and almost half of those individuals are in the overweight category, these studies offer important insight and suggest that a large majority of Americans are dying prematurely because of their excess weight. These studies offer a sobering reminder of just how important it is to eat healthfully and maintain a healthy weight in order to live a long life free of significant health problems.


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