By DALE McFEATTERS
Scripps Howard News Service
April 21, 2005
We kid you not. The source for this is a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute.
They found that overweight people in the United States had less risk of premature death than people of normal weight - in fact, 86,094 fewer deaths, equivalent to the population of a small city whose citizens err on the chubby side.
Now this is the kind of news you want to hear from your government. A little while ago, I did a flip piece that said that if you wait long enough a new study will show that what was bad for you is really good, and vice versa. It was based on, yes, a study that said drinking too much water can be dangerous to your health and even fatal.
About a year ago, there was a government study that said obesity was causing 400,000 deaths a year in the United States and that it was on track to overtake smoking as the leading cause of premature death. Great. I quit smoking like they asked and then they wanted me to quit eating. Well, that's out the window now. The real figure is something like 112,000 extra deaths due to obesity.
Stout, heavy, overweight, full-bodied, hefty - whatever - may indeed be not only the new normal - that covers two-thirds of us - but the new healthy. The range of overweight you want to shoot for, according to the feds' chart, is a Body Mass Index of 25 to 29.9.
I slid into that group by a tenth of a point and am feeling pretty good about it since the government is continually exhorting me to eat right and exercise more and I am guilty of doing neither.
I can never remember how to calculate the BMI or what the figures mean, and I won't tomorrow either. However, the BMI is calculated by multiplying your weight by 703 and dividing that number by the square of your height in inches. Not that I did that, mind you. There are plenty of Web sites, including one run by the National Institutes of Health, that will do it for you.
Normal is 18.5 to 24.9. Not that being fat is totally harmless. The obese - BMI of 30 to 34.9 - had 29,843 extra deaths, and the extremely obese, about 8 percent of adults, had 82,066 more.
Now no one wants to gloat here or indulge in schadenfreude, but being thin is not necessarily good. Thin people, and this includes the really thin, had 33,746 more premature deaths, worse even than the obese. I will never envy the scrawny again; they will beat me to life's finish line.
There seems to be a single, simple reason that being slightly overweight is good for you. Some suggest that being slightly overweight is the way we are and we've learned to deal with it. Others say perhaps lugging around a little excess weight builds up muscles and bones and that helps in old age.
In any case, this study - one of the very few and maybe the only in which I do not feel that I, personally, am being admonished - gives me a new respect for the government.
The CDC and NCI are charged with making us healthier, and just by re-examining the data they did. Way to go, gang.
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