Does a little excess weight help you live longer?

Being a little overweight may be associated with a longer life, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). But some researchers, including Harvard School of Public Health’s Walter Willett, disagree.

“We have a huge amount of other literature showing that people who gain weight or are overweight have increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, many cancers, and many other conditions,” Willett told National Public Radio’s Morning Edition on January 2, 2013. Willett is chair of HSPH’s Department of Nutrition and Frederick John Stare Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology.

The systematic review, led by researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, appears in the January 2, 2013 edition of JAMA.

Willett said it’s not helpful to look simply at how body mass indexes, or BMIs, influence the risk of premature death, as this paper did, without knowing something about people’s health or fitness. For instance, he noted that some people are thin because they’re ill, so of course they’re at higher risk of dying—but the study doesn’t make this sort of distinction.

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Obesity in Mid-Life Reduces the Chance of Healthy Survival in Women (HSPH press release)

Harvard School of Public Health Launches Obesity Prevention Website (HSPH press release)

HSPH’s The Nutrition Source