Whether it be for aesthetic reasons, health purposes or something else entirely, the pressure to weigh less can be carried throughout one’s life. Do we ever get to reach an age where we can just let it go? According to new research from The Ohio State University, thankfully, we might finally be able to say yes. In fact, becoming “overweight” may even be a good thing.
Per a study published in early February in Annals of Epidemiology, people who begin adulthood with a body mass index (BMI) in the “normal” range and eventually reach a BMI in the “overweight” range actually live the longest. The mortality rate for people who fit this description is even lower than those who maintained a normal BMI throughout their lives, according to the study’s sample population.
The researchers utilized data from a multi-decade study called the Framingham Heart Study, in which 4,576 predominately-white residents of Framingham, Massachusetts had their health tracked between 1948 and 2010, followed by 3,753 of their children between 1971 and 2014. Studying the BMIs and longevity of people from both cohorts, the researchers could track how their weight may have been linked to their mortality.
Controlling for factors that contribute to mortality rates and can further be associated with obesity, such as smoking, education and marital status, people who became overweight later in life but were of a normal BMI for the early portion of their adulthood lived the longest. In second place were those who maintained a normal BMI throughout their lives, followed by those who were consistently overweight. Underweight people and those who began overweight but lost weight ranked beneath the former two categories in longevity, and those who were consistently obese or became obese had the highest mortality rates of all.
When studying the second cohort, this pattern remained the same with one exception: Among the later group, too few people began overweight or obese and then lost weight to form a quantifiable data set.
This research has two major takeaways. The first is that the correlation between weight and health is far less straightforward than we think, and that those who fit the measure of overweight by BMI may in fact be healthier in some cases than those who have a normal BMI. The second is that being overweight or obese earlier in life is more common today than in previous generations, and the ramifications of this have yet to be fully understood.
Obviously, more research is needed to determine exactly how changes in BMI relate to mortality, particularly in the case of those whose BMI increased as they aged. Hopefully, though, we can potentially have one bit of relief about gaining weight later in life.