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Study shows extra pounds may add years to life


Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 08:01


Photo by Rayelle Dooley/The Gateway

Chelsea Collins has been spending more time toning and refining her muscles at UNO’s gym to have the perfect beach body. Whether she’s curling her abs until her stomach squeals or melting off the pounds by working her derriere on the treadmill, the sophomore journalism major has one New Year’s resolution—to get her body slim for spring break on the sandy beaches of Panama City Beach, Fla.

“I want to complete my New Year’s resolution by eating healthier, working out and surrounding myself with people who give me positive energy,” Collins said. “In doing so, you feel better about yourself, which helps people feel better with everything else in their lives as well.”

Collins, like many other Americans, is working her body to fulfill her 2013 New Year’s resolution and maintain a healthier lifestyle. However, a new U.S. government report from the Journal of the American Medical Association argues the contrary. Compared to those who are considered the ideal weight or markedly obese, researchers found that individuals who are “pleasantly plump” may actually have a lower risk of dying.

Following a review of 97 studies involving more than 2.88 million people globally by scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, research found that those who are 30 pounds or less over their ideal weight needn’t rush their thick thighs to the gym anytime soon, as they have the lowest risk of dying according to generally accepted health standards.

“I think overall [the report] shows that people who are slightly overweight are not in as much risk as those in higher obesity categories,” Sara Myers, an assistant professor with UNO’s Health, Physical Education and Recreation College, said. “But the BMI measurement has limitations and individuals should not take one study or one meta-analysis as the law. There are many components to health, and weight is just one of them.”

Myers’ contention holds factual weight as many professionals have challenged the report for not considering other health components. The skinny on the study is that the research didn’t consider gender, age, fat distribution or fitness levels, which all have a major impact on a person’s risk of death or disease, so no recommendations should be made based on this one report. Health nuts rejoice; there may be no need to sprint to the nearest Krispy Kreme and Kentucky Fried Chicken after all.

“A couple of potential reasons are people who are a little overweight probably consume more calories and therefore are more likely to meet all nutrition requirements,” Myers said when considering why the report may have produced such controversial results. “It is also possible that slightly heavier individuals have more muscle mass than normal weight individuals based on body mass index. Remember, these are only some ideas, but they were not investigated in that study.”

Dividing participants into categories based solely on body mass index, a ratio of weight to height used to measure the thickness of a person, the researchers could conclude that a six-foot man who is 190 pounds has the potential to live longer than a man of the same height at 170 pounds because he is just slightly overweight and not obese.

So, should the nearly 20 million overweight Americans whose bellies are testing the limits of their belt buckles put down their Big Macs or be clamoring for a super-sized Pepsi? Despite this one report, Myers said that especially for college students, it is not ideal to be 30 pounds overweight since it is in a person’s 20s that their metabolic rate beings to slow down.

Myers also stresses that body mass index is not the “perfect measure” of health and is generally used by physicians and insurance companies as a guideline to estimate risk for diseases related to obesity.

 “In my opinion, and supported by numerous research studies, being physically active is much more important than losing weight,” Myers said. “In fact, a ‘healthy weight’ individual who is sedentary has far more health risks than an ‘overweight’ person who achieves the recommended level of physical activity.”

Even though the study suggests being pleasantly plump may be a reason to be jolly after all, Collins shouldn’t trash her Nike running shoes and sweat bands.

Being healthy and active remains important in longevity of life, as Myers suggests.

“For 2013, I just want to feel better mentally and physically,” Collins said.


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