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A Higher BMI May Actually Be Healthy For You

Next time your doctor or health care provider admonishes you for carrying extra pounds, you might want to mention that it could actually improve your health and longevity. The debate about higher weights being better than lower ones for some health markers has been raging for a while. Here are conclusions from some recent scientific studies.

“As a group, overweight people are living the longest nowadays, researchers reported in the May 10 JAMA. And obese people seem to be at no higher risk of dying than those of normal weight.” (“‘Overweight’ may be healthiest BMI,” Science News, 6/11/66, p. 6) The conclusion is based on a nearly 40-year Danish study of more than 100,000 adults. “BMI as a number alone may not be sufficient to predict health and risk of death. It has to be taken within context.” It’s worth noting what scientists have known for a long time: BMI itself is an arbitrary and not very accurate health measurement. One other point about the study: because the sampling was of white people, it isn’t known if its conclusions apply to other races or ethnic groups as well.

Yet, this new conclusion on the BMI debate is heartening: “A person’s BMI does not tell the whole story.” I would add that science has also told us that the number on the scale doesn’t tell it all either. Physical fitness, health markers, and genetic diseases or conditions round it out. This is a complicated issue, far more so than your health care providers might imply. A reminder that genetics are key to what you will weigh as an adult, as is environment, trauma, parental eating habits, and many other factors.

Can you let go of BMI or weight goals being the best arbiters of how healthy you are or how long you’ll live? This may be a hard thing to do unless you’re open to thinking in new ways. Are there ways you’ll feel better about letting go of the idea that a lower BMI will make and keep you healthier? You’ll need to change the direction of your thinking to focus on other outcome numbers relating to cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides, body inflammation, and insulin production. You’ll also need to ditch all-or-nothing thinking and reset it to more of a continuum, incremental mindset.

The minute you shift your thinking from weight and BMI to growing healthier, you increase your chances of reaching this goal. Making this switch is important, and the best approach for getting and staying healthy is conscious, thoughtful, and nutritious eating. The winning strategy is to keep a strong focus on the beginning of the process (eating), not on the end of it (BMI, weight or even health).