Harvard Heart Letter

Research we're watching: Obesity paradox? Just a myth

Research we're watching

Obesity paradox? Just a myth

It's bad news for the people who have clung to the idea that obesity may protect certain people with diabetes (such as the very old or ill) against dying from a serious heart condition—the so-called obesity paradox. A major study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that in people with type 2 diabetes, excess body weight does not lower the risk of death from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other causes.

The researchers looked at 11,000 people with type 2 diabetes who were part of two long-term studies. None had cancer or heart disease. Over the 15-year follow-up, researchers tracked participants' body mass index (BMI). BMI is a measure defined by both your weight and height; the range from 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal.

People who had never smoked and fell into the high-normal category (a BMI from 22.5 to 24.9) had the lowest death rate. As BMI values went up, so did deaths. Because obesity puts people at risk for a variety of chronic diseases, the authors conclude, maintaining a healthy weight is a good overall strategy. 

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