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Is Being Thin More Deadly Than Being Obese?

March 31, 2014 in Blogs

By Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon

A new study reveals the dangers of a low BMI.

This might make you reconsider whether  you really want that thigh gap after all. A new Canadian study that examined 51 studies on the relationship between body mass index and death found it’s the underweight who have the highest risk of premature death. Cancel that juice cleanse!

The data crunching found that adults with a BMI of less than 18.5 were 1.8 times at higher risk of death within five years than individuals who fall in a “normal” range. Even the severely obese only clock in at a 1.3 times higher risk rate. The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health, notes that “Poverty, malnourishment, mental problems, smoking and alcohol” are all risk factors for dangerously low BMI. The study’s lead author, Dr. Joel Ray, told the Montreal Gazette this weekend that our cultural focus on the problems of obesity have meant that “in the process we’ve neglected the influence of being underweight on mortality” – and that we risk an “epidemic” of underweight adults.He added that obesity prevention campaigns can be helpful but also run the risk “of potentially affecting people who are already sufficiently healthy in size, or who are so slightly overweight that it’s irrelevant — their risk of dying or diabetes isn’t important. It’s those individuals who become unintended victims of the campaign.”

I’m all for encouraging true health and fitness – which isn’t about numbers on a scale but recognizing the importance of nutrition and regular exercise. But I’d be hesitant to say public awareness of the ways obesity rates have skyrocketed in the past few decades are suddenly leading to a troubling trend of mass weight loss. Though headlines bleat that“Weighing Too Little More Dangerous Than Being Obese,” it’d be helpful to remember that the population the researchers were looking at also tended to be grappling with deep and severe problems of poverty, mental health issues and substance abuse. Not exactly the typical demographic that might be wondering about losing a few pounds. Unless we’re bracing for a rise in mental illness, why be …read more


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