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Jockology: get fat, live longer?

August 13th, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, the Globe’s Margaret Wente published an article called “Get fat, live longer,” spurred by a recent Statscan study suggesting that overweight people live longer than normal-weight people. It launched a bit of an Internet firestorm as people forwarded the article around with glee. The article itself was reasonably good, with the exception of one major clunker: she said that “obese” people (BMI 30-35) lived longer, whereas in fact it was just “overweight” people (BMI 25-30) who demonstrated the effect. Still, the message many people took from the article — “get fat, live longer,” — wasn’t quite what the research suggested. So I decided to address a couple of points in this week’s Jockology column:

The question

Statistics Canada says being overweight makes you live longer. Should I stop exercising?

The answer

Let’s start with the facts. In June, Statistics Canada researchers did indeed publish a study in the journal Obesity based on a 12-year analysis of 11,326 Canadian adults in the National Population Health Survey. They found that subjects who were overweight (body mass index of 25 to 30) were 17 per cent less likely to die during the study period than those of normal weight (BMI of 18.5 to 25).

Now on to the interpretation.

These results fit right in with a growing amount of evidence that body weight is not the absolute indicator of health we once thought.

But that doesn’t mean exercise isn’t important. In fact, it turns out that physical fitness is a far better barometer of your long-term health than weight is – and that holds true even for thin but inactive people who thought their fabulous metabolism meant they didn’t need to exercise at all. [read the rest of the column...]

For another very detailed take on this research, check out this post by obesity researcher Travis Saunders on the blog ObesityPanacea.

  1. August 15th, 2009 at 19:22 | #1

    Just wanted to say thanks for this article, which I saw in the paper on Thursday. I’m so sick of all the “obesity” scares, and I always wonder why the truth comes out in studies but doesn’t get reported on. Many large people choose inactivity because they’ve discovered that exercise doesn’t make them thin, or they’re afraid of being ridiculed if they’re seen being active in public. In reality, we all have different body types, and we can all be healthier and more capable if we’re active. It’s especially nice seeing this acknowledged by someone in the fitness community.

  1. August 16th, 2009 at 05:59 | #1
  2. August 13th, 2011 at 11:15 | #2