Overweight Older People Live Longer
A Few Extra Pounds May Be a Plus in Old Age, Researchers Say
WebMD News Archive
Jan. 28, 2010 -- People who carry a few extra pounds after age 70 tend to
live longer than people who don’t, new research finds.
Overweight older adults who took part in the Australian study had a clear
survival advantage over those who were normal weight, underweight, or
The findings suggest that the widely accepted body mass index (BMI) weight
guidelines may not be particularly useful after age 70, lead researcher Leon
Flicker, PhD, of the University of Western Australia tells WebMD.
He says elderly people who don’t have health conditions like diabetes or
osteoarthritis, which are caused or exacerbated by carrying extra pounds, may
be better off being overweight.
“Unless they have these conditions, there is not much reason to tell people
in their 70s and beyond to lose weight if they are not obese,” he says.
Elderly Benefit From Extra Weight
The study is not the first to suggest that carrying some, but not too much,
extra weight may increase longevity.
Last summer, researchers in Canada reported the same findings after
analyzing data from more than 11,000 adults followed for more than a
In that study, people who met the criteria for being overweight were 17%
less likely to die compared to people of normal weight.
In the newly reported research, overweight study participants in their 70s
followed for up to 10 years had a 13% lower risk of death than participants
classified as normal weight.
BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight (in kilograms) by the square
of their height (in meters). A body mass index of 18.5-24.9 is considered
normal, a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI of 30 or more
is considered obese.
Based on BMI scores, a 5-foot, 7-inch adult would be considered:
- Underweight at less than 118 pounds (BMI <18.5),
- Normal weight at 118 to 159 pounds (BMI = 18.5-24.9)
- Overweight at 160 to 191 pounds (BMI = 25-29.9)
- Obese at 192 pounds or more (BMI = 30+)
Obese and normal-weight study participants had a similar risk of death over
the 10 years of follow-up. Underweight study participants had the highest risk
of death, even after the researchers adjusted for the wasting effects of
Exercise Lowered Death Risk
Women who were sedentary were twice as likely to die as women who got
regular exercise, regardless of BMI.
The effect was seen in men, but to a lesser degree. A sedentary lifestyle
was associated with a 28% increase in death among men.
The study appears in the February issue of the Journal of the American
“There is a lot we can’t really explain in our findings, and the fact that a
sedentary lifestyle seemed to be more risky for women than men is one of them,”