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You're 70? Have the cheesecake

January 28, 2010 |  6:00 am

Lose some pounds, get rid of that belly fat, maintain a healthy weight — the messages for people of all ages are loud and clear.

Jv6nn2nc But a new study finds that older people may be exempt from those commands. It found that men and women ages 70 to 75 had a lower mortality rate if they were overweight than if they were normal weight.

Australian researchers looked at data from two population-based longitudinal studies and concentrated on a subgroup of 9,240 men and women who were ages 70 to 75 at the beginning of the study. They were followed for 10 years or until they died, and body mass index was used to determine if the participants were underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese.

For both men and women, those who were overweight according to their BMI had the lowest risk of mortality. When they were divided into healthy or non-healthy groups, the results were virtually the same. Another discovery was made: Being sedentary increased the risk of mortality in men by 28%, and it doubled the risk for women.

People who were underweight had a higher death risk than those who were normal weight, and the obese had about the same mortality rate as men and women who were normal weight.

"These results add evidence to the claims that the [World Health Organization] BMI thresholds for overweight and obese are overly restrictive for older people," said lead author Leon Flicker of the University of Western Australia in a news release. "It may be timely to review the BMI classification for older adults."

As for why being overweight might extend life, the researchers referenced a meta-analysis that showed that those with existing coronary artery disease, being overweight or obese was linked to better survival rates, perhaps because the extra weight also provided metabolic and nutrition stores for people who are older and ill. They also speculate that as people grow older there may be a weaker link between being overweight and a lower risk of death.

So eat (not to excess) and be merry, but get off your duff.

The study was released today in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

— Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times

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Comments (11)

Logically if you are carry a few too many pounds and get seriously ill - you will do better as you can live off the excess weight. Most seriously people cannot eat and therefore, lose weight, strength and energy.

How bogus!! This "study" flies in the face of every credible medical findinf of the past 40 years.

Ok well these "results" should be a far cry from saying to go ahead and eat cheesecake. The logic behind the researchers' conclusions sounds plausible, but it must be remembered that BMI is absolutely archaic! Body Mass Index takes into account only height and weight, NOT body type! So BUZZZZZ, nice try!

Obese people and "mildly obese" people (which in the U.S., U.K. and Australia must still be pretty fat) rarely make it into their mid-seventies anyway. So yes, interesting news, but it does not overturn our knowledge that being obese is in general a very unhealthy condition.

Sounds like the University of Western Australia is just hungry to make headlines.

agathapuck, so did the theories of Copernicus and Galileo fly in the face of the "credible" accepted wisdom of their time....

These studies always carry some sort of caveat. I think people reading the article should never get too carried away. One possible explanation could be that fatter old people happen to have better nutrition (more calories but more importantly more nutrients) when they were younger hence they live longer. Countless other hypotheses could explain the results too.

Correlation is not causation!

Interesting article. However, I don't understand why media when they report on weight issues still INSIST on using terms like "normal" when it comes to weight. Just because someone is larger size it doesn't make them 'abnormal' and such words imply that. It's really offensive especially when many of us are doing the very best we can to eat well and exercise and may still be larger sized. Surely there is a better term that isn't such a pejorative.

As a caregiver, I can see how having some extra body fat is a good thing in older people. Obviously, older ones will not all of a sudden become obese at 90, if they didn't have the problem their whole life. We are talking a few pounds here.

They have a little more cushion if they fall, they have reserves if they become very ill. I have often felt that it could be a good thing. However, the majority of my clients were thin, and lived well into their 90's.

Remember the late Dr. Roy Walford of UCLA? Famously, he argued for caloric restriction, saying it's : "The Only Proven Way to Slow the Aging Process and Maintain Peak Vitality."

Am I correct that this study directly contradicts Dr. W's hypothesis?

one of the most common mistakes is to make a wrong conclusion from a right observation.

I wonder if the observation they made is right, leave alone the conclusion. Even if they have done everything per research norms and standards, I wish there is some serious followup studies!

"Large but STILL fit!" I agree with you, but for a completely different reason. First though, don't lay the blame on "the media" boogieman, "Normal" is the standard term set out in the BMI.

Now to my objection, they say "Normal", but with a larger portion of the population falling into the Overweight, Obese or Morbidly obese categories than "Normal", overweight is the new normal. "Ideal" might be good; "healthy", "fit" or "historical average" could work too.

But the term should connote that someone outside that range is "abnormal", because something is wrong. That applies to Underweight just as much as Overweight. The terms should be a signifier that a patient must make a change. If we used nicer terms like "husky" or "curvy" or "slender", then a person can rationalize, "Well I'm husky, so I don't have a potential health problem. I'll ignore that my doctor is telling me to loose weight. He just doesn't like husky people."


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