The Obesity Paradox: Skinny Can Kill You

thin and fat

The statue on the right is more likely to develop certain diseases. And research now shows, more likely to live longer as well.

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!

Cheers,

Lisa

Read additional Lisa Johnson Fitness articles on obesity

photo credit: Rui Fernandes

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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3 Responses to The Obesity Paradox: Skinny Can Kill You

  1. Curlsz September 18, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    I’ve been taking my mother to her dr apps recently, I’ve noticed how much attention they give her because of her weight, specific tests etc. her weight is a red flag for specific diseases so she gets checked and monitored very closely. Now say she was at her normal weight, would they still check and monitor for specific diseases as closely as they do now? It’s doubtful. But if she gets something they will catch it and treat her pretty early on, would they if she was at a normal weight and they weren’t checking her?

  2. Lisa Johnson September 19, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    I guess people still judge a book by it’s cover … that’s really what this comes down to. L–

  3. curlsz September 20, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    Well don’t get me wrong – her weight and age appropriately pull up the red flags – but I do think, scratch that, I know there are “thin” unhealthy people that aren’t being checked because their doctors don’t delve into their lifestyles. I just had lunch with a girlfriend that other day that to look at her looks healthy, or rather she’s not overweight. But the girl eats and lives like a college frat boy! Fast food, bad sleep habits and very little to no exercise. But her weight checks out so I doubt her doctor would ever suspect a thing.

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