Heart disease patients whose weight falls in the “normal” range tend to die sooner than their overweight counterparts. The same is true for those affected by diabetes, kidney disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. This flies hard in the face of prevailing wisdom that obesity kills, yet yesterday The New York Times published a story that if two people have the same disease, the thinner one is more likely to die first.
This is called the obesity paradox and it stymies researchers.
Let me back up for a second and say that, yes, people who are obese are more likely to develop these diseases in the first place. In fact, seven of the top ten causes of death in the United States are linked to obesity. But research now shows if a “normal weight” person develops a “fat” disease, they will likely succumb to it sooner.
According to the Times article, one researcher theorized that being ill requires more resources from the body, i.e., more fuel to fight the battle. People who are overweight have more in reserve than normal weight people do and this might be enough to keep them alive longer.
Another researcher from Boston University suggests that normal weight people can suffer from metabolic disease. This is when a person carries more fat around the organs and has symptoms such as high blood pressure and insulin resistance. The B.U. doc suggests that if you’re of normal weight, you’re less likely to be checked for metabolic syndrome and the disease can be more advanced before it gets caught by the medical community.
To me, the second theory makes more sense than the first. What do you think? Perhaps both have some validity.
This is clearly an area of research that needs more investigation. General practitioner M.D.s need to spend the proper time looking at all of their patients; making assumptions based on appearance is generally a bad idea in medicine, especially when a simple, inexpensive blood test or two can provide all the information you need.
What do you think? Have you heard of the obesity paradox before? It was a new term to me. If you are of normal weight are you going to ask your doctor to be more thorough on your next physical? I am!
Read additional Lisa Johnson Fitness articles on obesity
photo credit: Rui Fernandes