If the headline-grabbing news that “overweight people live longer” inspired you to skip your daily stroll or reach back into that bag of sour-cream-and-chives chips, we've got important info that could really extend your life:
Despite some seriously nutty headlines (our favorite: “Being Overweight is Linked to Lower Risk for Mortality” — as if they'd found the fountain of perpetual life), flab is a major-ager. And trimming yours (especially around your belly) is a life-saving health move.
Where did the news flash that some excess body fat is healthy come from? A meta-study that reviewed 97 health-and-weight studies involving 2.88 million people. Its conclusions: Overweight people and those at the lower end of the obese range have a 5 percent to 6 percent lower risk for an early death compared with people at a normal weight. However, extremely obese people are 29 percent more likely than normal weight types to die prematurely.
Sounds impressive, but they excluded studies that looked at people with specific medical conditions or those undergoing specific procedures. If you were being treated for high blood pressure (67 million in the U.S.), high LDL (lousy) cholesterol (24 million) or diabetes (18.8 million), you were not included, even if your condition was a result of being overweight or obese. The only thing this group of overweight healthy people can tell us about the general risks of extra pounds is that they were somehow exempt from diseases related to being overweight and obesity.
The study also used body-mass index to evaluate each person's fat and fit status. BMI, the comparison of weight to height, is no longer considered the best indicator of the presence, or absence, of health-harming body fat. The new standard: Belly fat (or, as we call it, omental fat, the deep abdominal fat that hangs off your stomach), not overall fatness, is the driving force behind life-changing health problems; it nearly doubles your odds for heart disease and cancer, and triples your risk for dementia. Carrying just three extra pounds of this inflammation-boosting fat can triple your diabetes risk!
So don't fall for the glib headlines or dubious study conclusions. If you're carrying extra pounds, ask yourself these questions before you start thinking that being overweight is OK:
What's my waist size? A middle that measures more than 35 inches for women and more than 39 for men is a health risk at any weight or BMI. That's because the bigger your middle, the more likely it is you're harboring excess deep-belly fat. Your next move: Losing just 3 percent to 5 percent of your body weight (5.5 to 9 pounds if you weigh 180) with a healthy diet (lots of fresh produce, 100 percent whole grains, lean protein, good fat, low-fat dairy) and 30 minutes of walking a day can shrink omental fat by 20 percent!
How are my blood lipids, blood pressure and blood sugar? If they're elevated, work on losing pounds and belly fat to help lower lipids: Get LDL cholesterol to under 100, under 70 if you've had a heart attack or have diabetes, and triglycerides to less than 100. Get blood pressure to 115/75 or less, and fasting blood sugar levels at 90-100.
Am I truly both fat and fit? Big bones and/or lots of muscle might boost your weight despite getting regular exercise, eating well and controlling stress. But chances are your extra pounds are from fat. And slimming down, even if you are only a few pounds over your best weight, is worthwhile. Case in point: Overweight women who walk 10 miles a week are still 50 percent more likely than normal-weight active women to have a serious coronary event such as a heart attack or bypass surgery. So don't ever think that putting on extra pounds is good for your health. Get down to your best weight — you probably know what that is — by picking up the steps (10,000 a day, please!) and eating more fruits, veggies and whole grains.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com.