January 1 has come and gone, which means many of us have hit the ground running with New Year’s resolutions to eat better or lose weight. Gyms are already selling more memberships as people flood through the doors, eager to fulfill their goals. Living a healthier lifestyle is a popular resolution each year, but what if someone told you that being a little overweight could help you actually live longer? A new study has suggested just that.
Fat Could Help You Live Longer?
It seem counterintuitive, but a new study by Katherine Flegal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that being a little overweight – not obese – can decrease your chance of dying by 6 percent. Flegal realizes that this sounds ridiculous. She says she published a paper that came to the same conclusion a few years ago and, “Our article got called rubbish and ludicrous, so it really opens you to lots of criticism. I discovered much to my sorrow that this is kind of a flashpoint for people.” She stands by her study, however, saying that she found over 100 articles with about 3 million people that addressed this question and helped her form her conclusion. How is it possible that fat equals a longer life? Dr. Steven Hymsfield of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge posits a few scenarios: a little extra fat could cushion vulnerable bones from a fall, or could help you if a serious disease left you unable to eat.
What the Study Misses
As you might expect, this study isn’t popular and has received much criticism. Walter Willett from the Harvard School of Public Health calls the study “rubbish” and says reading it is a waste of time. He says that the paper only looks at body mass indexes (BMIs) of people and how they influenced the risk of premature death. It does not look at chronic illnesses caused by being overweight, such as heart disease, diabetes, strokes and many other diseases. The research speaks loud and clear on that account – overweight people do experience many more health problems as a result of their weight. The study also does not look at illnesses which cause premature death that might cause someone to become underweight. The link would then have nothing to do with weight and more to do with illness. In short, the study makes some interesting conclusions, but weight shouldn’t have been the only factor Flegal looked at.
It’s Not Always Healthy to Be Underweight or Diet, Either
Willett suggests that, to find a healthy BMI for you, you should look at your weight when you were in your early 20′s, unless you were overweight at that age. However, many changes in our bodies can cause us to gain weight for good reasons. Women, for example, have to gain some weight during pregnancy. For many of us, trying to diet so we can get back to the weight we were at when we were 20 could be just as unhealthy as being a little overweight. According to nutritionist Linda Bacon, Ph.D, “[People] go on fasts, yo-yo diets, detox programs, and ‘cleanses’ without realizing that there are serious consequences to weight loss and nutrient restriction.” Diet programs, if done improperly, can lead to nutrition deficiencies, eating disorders, heart disease, a lowered immune system and many other issues.
Finding a Healthy Weight for You
It’s hard to ignore the weight loss fads and gym advertisements, especially around this time of year. Even if Flegal’s study is flawed, it does help to show us that fat is an okay and necessary part of our bodies. We need fat as a source of stored energy and as insulation and protection for our major organs. Fat even makes up part of the cell membranes for every cell in our body. While it might not be healthy to be overweight, it is healthy to have some fat as part of our bodies and our diet. Beware of dieting and too much exercise. There is such a thing as too much! If we listen to our bodies, they will tell us what they need. If a workout is causing too much pain or exhaustion, you need to stop. If you are craving certain foods, chances are there are nutrients in those foods your body needs. Instead of making a resolution to lose weight this year, resolve to listen to what your body is saying in order to lead a healthier life.
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