Study Shows People With A Specific Body Type Typically Live Longer

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Why Some Fat People May Live Longer: How Weight Affects Longevity
Health And Wellness

This may be the first time that you hear that carrying around some extra weight may actually be good for your health.

While the connection between health, obesity and weight has been the subject of ongoing debate (and will likely continue to be so) for a long time, one study reveals that there may just be a positive relationship between body fat and life expectancy.

Since 2003, researchers at the UC Irvine Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND) have been conducting a still-ongoing study — referred to as The 90+ Study — to gain greater insight the role of lifestyle, diet, health and other factors play in longevity.

While their stated goal was understanding what allows people to live to age 90 and beyond, their findings uncovered surprising information about longevity among fat people.

Over the course of their in depth look at the lifespan of more than 1,600 people belonging to the generation the team calls "the oldest old", one particularly surprising finding emerged.

People who were overweight in their 70s lived longer than people who were normal or underweight.

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This is good news considering that the most recent statistics show an estimated 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. are considered to be overweight.

But with that being said, there is also no doubt that extreme obesity carries an increased risk of illness and even death.

These finding align with a review of 97 studies with a combined sample of more than 2.88 million individuals and more than 270,000 deaths.published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Authors of the review used the following terminology in keeping with that of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:

  • Underweight: BMI of less than 18.5
  • Normal weight: BMI of 18.5 to less than 25
  • Overweight: BMI of 25 to less than 30
  • Grade 1 obesity BMI of 30 to less than 35
  • Grade 2 obesity: BMI of 35 to less than 40
  • Grade 3 obesity: BMI of 40 or greater

"Relative to normal weight," they explain, "both obesity (all grades) and grades 2 and 3 obesity were associated with significantly higher all-cause mortality. Grade 1 obesity overall was not associated with higher mortality, and overweight was associated with significantly lower all-cause mortality."

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In layman's terms, this means that people in the two highest categories of obesity have the shortest life expectancy of all, those who are "overweight" have the longest life expectancy of all, and people who are just slightly obese are no more likely to have a shorter life span than anyone else.

Why would being somewhat overweight potentially increase longevity?

The right amount of fat can help with the body's insulation, body function, as well as vitamin and personal shock absorption. And with life being so unexpected, having that extra body fat to insulate us during times when we encounter scary situations can be a good thing.

Dr. Steven Hymsfield of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, LA, told NPR that, in certain instances, having a couple of extra pounds may also help you live longer because the additional weight can potentially provide some protection against certain serious injuries.

"If you fall and you fall on vulnerable bone, like the hip, having a little extra fat there might protect you from hip fracture," Hymsfield says, adding an illness leaves you unable to eat, extra body fat could be useful.

Regardless of your own particular body type, it's hard to argue with the fact that the best way to guarantee a healthy, long life is through a healthy lifestyle that includes a heart smart diet and lots of physical activity.

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Lani Akingbade is a writer residing in New Jersey.

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on March 27, 2018 and was updated with the latest information.