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Being overweight could be good for you, say U.S. researchers
Being overweight might not be all bad as far as health risks go, claims a group of U.S. researchers.
They say it does not appear to raise your risk of dying from cancer or heart disease - and may even help people survive some illnesses.
However, the chances of dying from diabetes and kidney disease go up as the bathroom scales rise - and those who are classified as obese rather than just overweight have a higher risk of death from a wide range of disorders including cancer and heart problems.
A new study in the Journal of the Amercian Medical Association says there is a "grey" area where being up to around a stone and a half overweight may not be all bad.
But the findings are disputed by some specialists who point out the study looks only at death - not sickness and disability - and it's all too easy for people to end up going from pleasantly plump to obese.
The new study is the second carried out by US Government scientists who two years ago first suggested that deaths from being too fat were overstated.
The report further analyses the same data, this time looking at specific causes of death along with new mortality figures from 2004 for 2.3million U.S. adults.
Lead researcher Dr Katherine Flegal, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which funded the study, said: "Excess weight does not uniformly increase the risk of mortality from any and every cause, but only from certain causes."
The study looked at the Body Mass Index (BMI) of people who died from various diseases. The BMI is used to relate weight to height.
In many cases, the risks of death were substantial for obese people with a BMI of at least 30.
Specifically, obesity raised the risk of death from heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease, and several cancers previously linked with excess weight, including breast, colon and pancreatic cancer.
But being merely overweight - having a BMI between 25 and 30 - did not increase the risk of dying from heart disease or any kind of cancer.
Also surprising was that overweight people were up to about 40 per cent less likely than normal-weight people to die from several other causes including emphysema, pneumonia, injuries and various infections.
The age group that seemed to benefit most from a little extra padding were people aged 25 to 59, although older overweight people also had reduced risks for these diseases.
Dr Robert Eckel, a spokesman for the American Heart Association, argued the results may be misleading. For example, diabetes and heart disease often occur together and both often afflict overweight people.
So when diabetes is listed as a cause of death, heart disease could have contributed, he said.
Dr Eckel said the study results might reflect aggressive efforts to treat high blood pressure and cholesterol or other conditions that can lead to fatal heart attacks.
Those conditions often occur in overweight people and can be costly and debilitating even if they are not always deadly, he said.
The use of BMI as a measure of a person's fatness has also been criticised, as it can wrongly implicate muscle in very fit people.
The latest study comes after staying slim last week topped a recent list of recommendations for preventing cancer in a report from the World Cancer Research Fund, which was based on a review of more than 7,000 studies.
Around 6,000 cancer cases in older women are linked to being fat, according to Cancer Research UK.
11/9/2007, 2:16 pm
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