Overweight People, Not Just Obese, More Likely to Die Sooner, Study Says

People who are overweight or obese are more likely to die sooner from varying causes than those with healthy weight, according to the first government study to pinpoint risks from findings on 1.5 million white Americans.

Women who never smoked and were classified as merely overweight and not obese -- a 5-foot 5-inch female weighing 150 to 179 pounds -- had a 13 percent greater risk of dying sooner than normal weight peers, the research found. Women who were obese -- 5-foot 5-inches and more than 180 pounds -- had a 44 percent higher risk. The results for men were similar.

Two-thirds of Americans and at least half the people in many developed countries are now considered overweight or obese, according to the authors. Previous studies have documented higher death rates in the obese, while being inconclusive about the risks of being overweight. The research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, pooled the results of 19 studies and excluded smokers to provide precise estimates of increased death risks.

“Both overweight and obesity are associated with increased all-cause mortality,” wrote the authors led by Amy Berrington de Gonzalez at the National Cancer Institute. “The results of our analysis are most relevant to whites living in affluent countries.”

The researchers restricted their analysis to participants who were non-Hispanic whites and said similar studies were under way in other populations.

Body Mass Index

The analysis looked at people’s body mass index, or BMI, a measure of weight based on height. The authors identified a sweet spot that they found was healthiest, a BMI between 20 and 24.9. To be in that category, people who are 5-feet 5-inches tall should weigh between 120 and 149 pounds and people who are 5-feet 10-inches should weigh 140 to 173 pounds. Weighing more than that puts people into the overweight category and starts increasing their risk of health problems that can lead to death.

The death rate increased the most, by 88 percent, in the severely obese whose BMI is 35 or higher. In the U.S., 17 percent of women and 11 percent of men are severely obese.

For this analysis, researchers looked at 19 studies. The people involved had a median age of 58 and were followed for a median of 10 years to record deaths from all causes. Those who smoked or had pre-existing illness such as heart disease or cancer were excluded to eliminate the influence of those factors on their risk of death, the authors said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rob Waters in San Francisco at rwaters5@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.