A new study of data from 1,326 Canadians suggests that carrying a few extra pounds may actually help you to live longer.

The findings were published in the online journal Obesity, and the results tie in with previous research, including a study carried out in 2007 which drew the same conclusions.

Researchers found that:

  • People who were underweight (defined in the study as BMI < 18.5) were 73% more likely to die than people of normal weight (BMI 18.5 - 25).
  • Those who were overweight (BMI 25 - 30) were 17% less likely to die than those of normal weight.
  • Those who were obese (BMI 30 - 35) were about as likely to die as those of normal weight.

As you can see from the figures, any health benefit from being slightly overweight is likely to be small. But, being underweight could be putting your health at serious risk.

Dr. David Feeny, one of the lead authors on the study, suggested that overweight may not be the problem we thought it was. The New York Times paraphrased his conclusions as to why this could be the case:

[Dr. Feeny] said the finding may be due to the fact that a little excess weight is protective for the elderly, who are at greatest risk for dying, or because many health conditions associated with being overweight, like high blood pressure, are being treated with medication.

So, how does this research relate to you?

  • If you're struggling to get your BMI below 25, focus on being fit, not on getting thin. Fit and fat has been shown to be better than thin and unfit.
  • Don't try to reach an unhealthily low weight - you could shorten your life. If your BMI is below 18.5, talk to your doctor.
  • If your BMI is currently between 18.5 - 25, don't use this research as a great reason to over-indulge. The link between a few extra pounds and a longer life is far from certain.