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Experts Explain Why Being Underweight Might Be MORE Dangerous Than Being Obese [Study]

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 Image Source: Medical News Today 

It’s not difficult to find information about how being overweight or obese is tied to earlier death. But a study released in March of 2014 revealed that we might be focusing on the wrong side of the equation.

Researchers pooled the results from 51 studies (a meta-analysis), each of which followed subjects for 5+ years, to identify the linkages between various BMIs and their associated risk of death. BMI or body mass index is a common measurement that creates a scale based on height-to-weight ratio; with classifications ranging from underweight, healthy weight, overweight, obese and severely obese. 

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While doctors typically focus on the risks associated with being above the safe range, new research suggests that they should be paying equal (if not more) attention to the dangers associated with being too thin.

They discovered that underweight people had a 1.8 greater chance of dying than normal adults — nearly double the risk. Comparatively, they found that for obese adults (BMI of 30+), the risk was 1.2 times greater than normal adults; and about 1.3 times greater for severely obese adults (BMI of 35+).

As it turns out, being underweight might actually be MORE dangerous than being obese.12

While obesity is linked to a number of obvious causes, including poor diet and lack of exercise, there are a variety of dangerous conditions that can contribute to an underweight BMI:

  • Cirrhotic Liver Disease
  • Lung Disease
  • Acute Bone and/or Muscle Injury
  • Alcoholism and/orDrug Abuse
  • Mental Illness and Depression
  • Poor Nutrition and Undereating
  • Over Exercising

 

The Bottom Line


We know obesity carries extreme risks, but this study shows that being underweight is just as dangerous, if not more. Take caution.

When using BMI as a classification, it’s best to be average. But don’t live and die by BMI — it’s a faulty measure that fails to account for muscle mass and body composition. However, if you find yourself falling outside of the “normal” category, on either end, it doesn’t hurt to contact a doctor to see how you can get yourself back in that 18.5-25 range.

Julie Fine

Julie Fine

Content Specialist at Lean It Up
Julie Fine is an AFAA-CGF, Beachbody INSANITY Coach, former chunky gal, 110% pure fitness junkie and an SEC-lovin' sorority girl at the University of Missouri.

When she isn't spending her extra time as a campus tour guide (Go Tigers!), she's probably scrounging around the aisles of Barnes & Noble or doing some impulse online shopping.
Julie Fine
Follow Lean It UP on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for real-time fitness/nutrition tips, advice, info and updates.

 
 

References, Notes, Links

  1. Sissi Cao1, Rahim Moineddin2, Marcelo L Urquia3, Fahad Razak4,5,6,7, Joel G Ray8. J-shapedness: an often missed, often miscalculated relation: the example of weight and mortality. J Epidemiol Community Health doi:10.1136/jech-2013-203439 []
  2. ScienceDaily — Underweight people at as high risk of dying as obese people, new study finds []

 

  • Nono_Yobiz

    Holy crap this is stupid. Being underweight is a symptom of several dangerous and chronic conditions. This is like saying “coughing up blood is more dangerous than not coughing up blood.” Well duh.

    The percentage of underweight people has been dropping, from about 2.5% of the population in the early 90s to 1.7% Our obesity epidemic is so strong that it’s even fattening up the chronically ill and making it more difficult to diagnose wasting diseases.

    And finally, being overweight and obese affects over 65% of the population. I think far more people need to worry about that.

    • I don’t think it’s meant to compare underweight vs. overweight in terms of prevalence, because in terms of population impacted it’s not even close (as you mentioned). But that’s like saying rare diseases are unimportant because they’re so uncommon. A medical problem is a problem for the person who has it.

      There’s undoubtedly a stigma, societal pressure, etc.—whatever you want to call it—that pushes people to be extremely skinny. Especially young women, in a way that’s not only really unhealthy, but also potentially dangerous. Most eating disorders are developed at an early age based on that idea.

      Sure being underweight is uncommon, but just because it’s a small subset of the population doesn’t mean it’s a non-issue. People deal with it on a regular basis and it’s an issue that deserves to be addressed.

      • Nono_Yobiz

        Eating disorders are not caused by societal stigma. They are mental disorders related to OCD. This whole idea that anorexia is something that you can choose, or something that can just happen to someone who is neurobiologically normal is a complete crock.

        • I consider myself to be “neurobiologically normal” and I definitely don’t have OCD, yet I dealt with an eating disorder for 2-3 years.

          • Nono_Yobiz

            What was your diagnosis? From looking at your bio, your lowest weight was 145 lbs at 5′ 11″, which put your BMI at over 20 – well within the healthy range. So it wasn’t anorexia nervosa.

            Are you currently in therapy? Eating disorders have a high rate of recurrence and can be deadly.