The deadly irony behind the obesity paradox

I know I like to blame almost everything on the obesity epidemic.

Heart disease – check.

Diabetes – check.

Cancer – check.

Infertility – check.

Arthritis — check.

There’s an endless list. And in most cases, I am right.

But there seems to be a flipside to being overweight…

There’s a phenomenon known as the obesity paradox which I wrote about a few of years ago. And since then it’s become a hot topic among researchers.

Back in 2012, UC Davis researchers conducted a 6-year study to find an answer to this question:

Could carrying around a few extra pounds actually be a good thing?

And what they found seemed to knock down the conventional wisdom of “thin equals healthy.”

Because when they compared overweight/obese people to those who were a normal weight, there was no difference in mortality. Being at a higher weight didn’t automatically equal a death sentence.

When I first read this, I was skeptical to say the least. And couldn’t help but wonder if the researchers had something to gain from publishing these results. (As I’ve told you time and again, data can be manipulated into telling you anything you want it to.)

Because frankly, the rule has always been obesity puts you in the danger zone for developing chronic illness. Yet these new studies are finding that people with certain medical conditions appear to be protected somehow by the extra fat they are carrying around.

But don’t go out and stuff your face with ring dings or ho-hos just yet. Please keep reading…and in a moment I’ll explain why these results aren’t as clear cut as you might think. But first, let’s take a look at the research behind the obesity paradox.

There are four diseases in particular that scientists have put under the “obesity paradox” umbrella.

The first is type 2 diabetes.

Researchers from Castle Hill Hospital in the UK recently published a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine that found overweight people who already had type 2 diabetes were living longer compared to people who were normal weight.

In another study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers found normal weight and obese people with type 2 diabetes had the same mortality rate.

But those in the overweight category (with a BMI of 25 to 29.9) actually had a lower risk of death.

Breast cancer is another example of the obesity paradox at work. And it’s particularly true for women who develop breast cancer before menopause.

This is probably because women who have excess fat before menopause skew their hormones to the point where they are no longer releasing eggs during the menstrual cycle. And as one researcher put it, “no eggs means less estrogen, or less fuel for breast cancer to grow.”

Overweight or even obese women also seem to have protection against osteoporosis that thin, small-framed women just don’t have.

The explanation here is two-fold. First, after menopause, an excess of fat produces more estrogen — which protects bone density. And second, just physically carrying around all those extra pounds is like lifting weights, which helps strengthen the skeleton.

The last condition benefitting from the “obesity paradox” is heart disease.

According to a study in the American Heart Journal, among patients with heart failure, the worst prognosis occurs in people with the lowest body weight.

In fact, obese patients with heart failure have a 33% lower risk of dying compared to the normal and underweight patients.

Now, this all might seem like a reversal of fortune, but let’s look at the facts here…

These studies all relied on BMI to categorize people into “overweight” and “obese” categories. And BMI can be deceiving.

BMI isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of a person’s true makeup. It’s based solely on height and weight and doesn’t take the proportion of fat and muscle into account. A body builder could easily considered obese according to the BMI scale, when in fact they may have a miniscule amount of body fat.

And this imperfect mode of calculating “obesity” can skew results dramatically.

Keep in mind, too, that the studies on the “obesity paradox” all show benefits in people who are already ill.

So in order to reap the supposed “benefits” of being overweight, you have to be sick already. Kind of ironic, isn’t it?

Researchers can try to fool themselves — and the public — into thinking extra weight isn’t so bad. But don’t let this so-called paradox lure you into a false sense of security. Because one thing is certain — being overweight or obese leads to higher all-cause mortality.

Period. End of story.

And at the end of the day, THAT’S what really matters. So if the number on your scale is creeping up, now is the time to do something about it — before it’s too late.