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