Over the past several years, there have been multiple studies that appeared to point in a positive direction: that having a little bit of meat on your frame — not obesity, which has been repeatedly linked to an early death, but just the extra pounds that signify a commitment to eating dessert — made an individual a better candidate for increased longevity than their rake-thin peers. As we age, those extra pounds were thought to perform a protective function. So more mashed potatoes for everyone, right?
Not so fast, unfortunately. According to a recent story by Alex Hutchinson in the Globe and Mail, the results of a three-decade study have debunked those previous findings. Hutchinson quotes one of the study’s authors, epidemiologist Pramil Singh: “The message from this cohort is that elderly adults who maintain a lower BMI [body mass index] by following a healthy lifestyle pattern — lower meat consumption, higher consumption of plant foods, higher physical activity levels — will live longer.” The idea that a healthy diet and clean lifestyle (no smoking, moderate drinking, regular exercise, etc) will increase your odds of longevity is not new; but what is new is the idea that a lower BMI means better health overall.
Interestingly, there is an exception when it comes to women, who are given a little extra BMI wiggle room once they hit their menopausal years because the estrogen produced in small additional amounts of body fat is thought to help reduce the risk of fractures and other ailments.
Of course, this research is all about averages and these findings do not indicate that you can’t be both overweight and healthy. But the authors claim that being overweight — especially when carrying fat around the abdomen rather than the hips — makes one more likely to die earlier.