We all have our guilty pleasures and one of mine is watching The Biggest Loser. I find it inspiring to watch the participants, many of them morbidly obese, struggle to lose weight and get healthy the old-fashioned way – through a better diet and exercise. There's lots of evidence to show that dropping such a huge amount of weight improves the chances that you will live a longer and healthier life. But what about those of us who have a much smaller amount to lose – maybe just 20 pounds? Should we be struggling to shed that extra weight as well?
A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the answer is yes. It may not be the news that you (or I) want to hear, but it's worth paying attention to. The comprehensive report, which pooled data from 19 longitudinal studies, found that there were clear benefits to maintaining a body mass index (BMI) of between 20.9 and 24.9. (For an explanation of BMI and a tool to calculate yours, click here.)
That's not quite the same as the range defined as normal – 18.5 to 24.9 — by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. But it does show that there's a reason to keep your weight under control. Some examples:
- Healthy women who had never smoked and were overweight were 13 percent more likely to die during the study period than those who had a BMI between 22.5 and 24.9.
- Women who were obese (a BMI of 30 to 34.9) had a 44 percent increased risk of death.
- For every five-unit increase in BMI, there was a 31 percent increase in risk of death.
This is somber news during the holiday season, but think of it as another incentive to avoid that extra canapé. Every calorie counts.