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Being a skinny is much more unhealthy than being fat – new study

Maybe you can't be too rich – but you can be too thin

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Yet another study has shown that the so-called "obesity" epidemic sweeping the wealthy nations of the world has been massively over-hyped, as new results show that is is far more dangerous to be assessed as "underweight" than it is to be assessed even as "severely obese" - let alone merely "obese" or "overweight".

"There is currently a widespread belief that any degree of overweight or obesity increases the risk of death, however our findings suggest this may not be the case," says health prof Anthony Jerant, lead author of the study. "In the six-year timeframe of our evaluation, we found that only severe obesity was associated with an increased risk of death."

Most statistics in this field are still based on the now widely discredited Body Mass Index (BMI) system, under which people are assessed as "underweight", "normal", "overweight", "obese" or "severely obese". BMI, devised in the early 19th century by an obscure Belgian sociologist without medical qualifications, copes poorly with increases in height as it assumes the human body will scale up in mass in proportion to the square of height – which doesn't allow for the fact that bodies are three dimensional – and further fails to allow for the greater cross-sectional area needed in supporting structures to carry increasing weights.

Jerant and his colleagues, surveying nearly 51,000 Americans of all ages over a period of six years, found that "underweight" BMI was far and away the most dangerous category to be placed in. During the study period, the "underweight" subjects showed a risk of death no less than twice as high as the "normal" participants.

It was considerably safer to be "severely obese": the people in this category were just 1.26 times as likely to die as "normals". This was because more of them suffered from hypertension and diabetes, and once people without these two conditions were subtracted, the many non-diabetic, non-hypertense "severely obese" fatties were no more likely to die than "normal" people. People who were merely "obese" or "overweight" didn't suffer from diabetes or hypertension any more than "normal" people, and ran no increased risks.

"We hope our findings will trigger studies that re-examine the relationship of being overweight or obese with long-term mortality," comments Jerant.

The study is published by the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. ®

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