Is Fat Good for You?

Is Fat Good for You? If you’ve been reading the news this week, you probably saw some headlines stating that being overweight may actually be healthier than being ‘normal’ weight.

A new report released by The JAMA Network found that that those whose body mass index (B.M.I.) ranked them as overweight had less risk of dying than people of normal weight. And while obese people had a greater mortality risk over all, those at the lowest obesity level (B.M.I. of 30 to 34.9) were not more likely to die than normal-weight people.

Yes, you read that right. Being a little overweight or even slightly obese was linked to about a 6 percent lower risk of dying, compared to people considered “normal weight,” according to a review of almost 100 past studies covering nearly three million people. Being severely obese, however, was still tied to an almost 30 percent higher risk of death.

Already I’ve had a few people tell me that they were going to ditch their New Year’s weight loss plans as a result of the news.  So hold on! Before you pick up that cupcake and settle in on the couch for the winter, let’s put these findings into context.

  • First, the study itself may have some flaws. The authors of the study included people too thin to fit what some consider to be normal weight, which could have taken in people emaciated by cancer or other diseases, as well as smokers with elevated risks of heart disease and cancer.
  • It is also possible that overweight or somewhat obese people are less likely to die because they, or their doctors, have identified other conditions associated with weight gain, like diabetes, so they may be getting more care than their seemingly healthy, thinner counterparts.
  • It is also the type of body that seems to matter more than just total fat.  Researchers have long known that belly fat (also known as visceral fat) is more likely to predict disease and be a health hazard than thigh, butt, and upper arm fat. BMI does not take into account where fat resides, and is probably not the best marker for mortality risk on its own.

So what should we make of this latest study?  Is it time to get more comfortable with a BMI that falls in the ‘overweight’ category (BMI of 25 to 29.9)?

Probably not just yet.  While a little excess weight may not turn out to be as harmful as once thought, it does increase your risk of having diabetes and other conditions.   While we do not have all the answers, the best advice for now is to check in regularly with your doctor. Important markers of health, such as blood pressure and cholesterol, do respond to minor changes in weight. Gaining an extra 10 or 20 pounds can put you into a dangerous category.  And even if you are on the thin side, you could still have high cholesterol or other risk factors for disease. Get regular check ups and blood work to determine how extra pounds may (or may not) be impacting your health.

— Katherine


  1. says

    We need a cosmic shift in thinking. Our preoccupation with weight is the problem, not the solution. Metabolic health trumps weight in terms of longevity, quality of life and freedom from disease. Metabolic health trumps body composition, too. People who boast great muscle definition are not necessarily healthy. Much disordered eating and other manipulative behaviors coupled with genetic predisposition muddy any correlation to health or fitness.

    It is true that you can have the full package of an ideal body weight, a lean body composition and good metabolic health–but the first two conditions are not necessary for the third. We perpetuate a myth when researchers, clinicians and all other health care professionals continue to pretend the issue is about weight.

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