Being overweight isn’t dangerous? Time to stop worrying?

In May 2016 researchers in Denmark stated that “Being overweight isn’t as dangerous as it used to be”. What does that information mean and how are we supposed to use it? We all know through common sense and advice from healthcare professionals, such as the NICE guidelines, that it’s in our interests to lose excess weight and live healthier lives. At the end of the day, too much fat is dangerous, but is the danger now so low that we can afford to ignore it?

The research

The researchers assessed data from 120,000 people going back 40 years. They found that in the 1970s the BMI with the lowest risk of dying was 23.7, compared to the result from 2013 which suggest the BMI with lowest risk is now 27. A healthy BMI is defined as one that falls within the range of 20 to 25, overweight is between 25 and 30, and a BMI over 30 is obese.

The research suggests that an overweight individual today is less likely to die than their 1970’s counterpart. Therefore, being overweight really isn’t as dangerous anymore. Great news right?

The article in The Week magazine included the truthful reaction of the researchers to these findings. The researchers “were quick to stress that their results do not show that being fat is healthy.” Why then are overweight individuals living longer? According to the researchers, “It may simply be that the diseases that killed overweight people in the 1970s are better treated and controlled today, reducing the risk linked with weight gain.”

Crisis point

Science is amazing and medical advances are incredible. The things we can do now are unimaginable for someone 40 years ago. Unsurprisingly, with the addition of new drugs and technology the treatment of type 2 diabetes and other weight related illnesses are going from strength to strength. But we should ask ourselves some soul searching questions. What sort of life do I want to live? Do I want to spend my days in perpetual ill health being kept live by drugs? With more pressure on the health service, what would I do if I found myself suddenly without free access to treatment I need to stay alive? Finally, wouldn’t I rather be the healthy dynamic person I know I can be?

The obesity crisis is reaching a point where many people are going to be classed as obese rather than simply overweight. Advances in medicine may or not be enough to cancel out the risk to life from obesity, if it does there’s no guarantee the average person will have access to them. We are already seeing life saving cancer drugs being denied on the NHS due to costs, more sophisticated treatments for obesity related disease is going to cost money.

For a healthy society with healthy individuals, it is absolutely imperative that we recognise how dangerous obesity is. It may be less dangerous today, but that is no reason to ignore it. The best and cheapest way to deal with obesity related health issues, is to educate ourselves and make the healthy lifestyle changes necessary to prevent obesity in the first place.