Have you heard the term “obesity paradox”? In several studies researchers had observed what they thought was an “obesity paradox,” a phenomenon in which moderately obese people seemed to have a reduced risk of early death compared to those who were of normal weight.  Researchers reported that people with obesity who had chronic diseases were outliving normal-weight people with the same health issues. This suggested that extra fat provides a sort of protection from early death that isn’t afforded to underweight or normal weight individuals.

Recently, however, several studies have indicated this paradox is incorrect. One such study sheds even more light on the direct relationship between higher weight and earlier death.  The analysis used data from three larges studies, consisting of more than 225,000 participants.  The researchers used information on participants’ height and weight to calculate their body mass index (BMI) over a 16-year period, then recorded their highest or “maximum” BMI during this period. The participants were then followed for an average of 12 more years.

During the follow-up period, more than 32,500 participants died. The study found a correlation between carrying extra weight and early death. Compared with people who had a maximum BMI in the normal range, those who had a maximum BMI in the overweight range were 6 percent more likely to die during the follow-up period. Those who had a maximum BMI in the obese or severely obese range were 24 percent to 70 percent more likely to die during the follow-up period, compared to those in the normal weight range.

These findings contradict those that led to the idea of an obesity paradox, and shows that higher weight is linked to higher chance of death.  Even more, this new research has a number of strengths over prior studies, including that it gathered data on participants’ weight throughout the study and didn’t ask participants to recall what they weighed at some point in the past. The new finding is important from a public health perspective, given that more than 70% of the US adult population is overweight or obese.

Losing weight helps lower disease risk, so the sooner obesity is treated – the better. In this regard, weight loss surgery shouldn’t be thought of as a last resort. It is a proved medical treatment that can save lives. Dr. Mona Misra has performed over 5,000 bariatric, advanced laparoscopic and endoscopic surgical procedures and is happy to answer any questions you may have about obesity or your weight loss options.