Truth about being overweight and dating

Studies such as Flegal's are dangerous, Willett says, because they could confuse the public and doctors, and undermine public policies to curb rising obesity rates.

“There is going to be some percentage of physicians who will not counsel an overweight patient because of this,” he says.

And the nadir of that curve — the weight at which death rates are lowest — depends on age (see 'Weight watching').

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In 1960, a thick report based on data from policy-holders at 26 life-insurance companies found that mortality rates were lowest among people who weighed a few kilograms less than the US average, and that mortality climbed steadily with weight above this point.

This spurred the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (Met Life) to update its table of 'desirable weights', creating standards that were widely used by doctors for decades to come.

But many researchers accept Flegal's results and see them as just the latest report illustrating what is known as the obesity paradox.

Being overweight increases a person's risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many other chronic illnesses.

In the early 1980s, Reubin Andres, who was the director of the US National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Maryland, made headlines for challenging the dogma.

By reanalysing actuarial tables and research studies, Andres reported that the relationship between height-adjusted weight and mortality follows a U-shaped curve.

That meeting resulted in the introduction of new criteria for 'normal weight' (BMI of 18.5–24.9), 'overweight' (BMI of 25–29.9) and 'obese' (BMI of 30 or higher).

In 1998, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lowered its BMI cut-offs to match the WHO's classifications. At the statistics centre, which is part of the CDC, she has at her fingertips data from the agency's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

But these studies suggest that for some people — particularly those who are middle-aged or older, or already sick — a bit of extra weight is not particularly harmful, and may even be helpful.

(Being so overweight as to be classed obese, however, is almost always associated with poor health outcomes.) — in part because the epidemiology involved is complex, and eliminating confounding factors is difficult.

The report, a meta-analysis of 97 studies including 2.88 million people, had been released on 2 January in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

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