Slightly Chubby People Live Slightly Longer

Glenn Reynolds passes along news of a Japanese study that finds “People who are a little overweight at age 40 live six to seven years longer than very thin people, whose average life expectancy was shorter by some five years than that of obese people, the study found.”

Sweet!  I’ve apparently gotten out of shape at precisely the right time.


But Kuriyama warned he was not recommending people eat as much as they want. “It’s better that thin people try to gain normal weight, but we doubt it’s good for people of normal physique to put on more fat,” he said.

So, do overweight people live longest or not?  A more thorough Times of India report elucidates:

While studying the volunteers, scientists looked at the past physiques of the participants and how long they lived past the age of 40, and grouped them according to their body mass index (BMI), an indicator of how fat a person is.

Men of regular weight (with a BMI of between 18.5 and 25) at age 40 lived for an average of 39.94 more years, while those who were overweight (BMI of between 25 and 30) at age 40 lived a further 41.64 years, the study found.  Ladies of regular weight lived on average a further 47.97 years, compared with overweight women, who lived another 48.05 years. Obese men and women (BMI of 30 or more) lived a further 39.41 and 46.02 years, respectively. But thin men (BMI of less than 18.5) were on average expected to live 34.54 more years, and thin women another 41.79 years.

It’s not surprising that underweight people are unhealthy compared to people of ideal weight and even slightly overweight, especially since we’ve changed the standards in recent years lowering the “overweight” threshold.  But it is surprising that people who are slightly over the ideal BMI live longer than those within the ideal range:

As far as the reason for the surprising finding is concerned, it could be that many thin people smoke and a theory that thin people are more susceptible to contagious diseases.

So, I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to grab a cheeseburger in an attempt to extend your lifespan. On the other hand, if you really want a cheeseburger, it’s probably not worth fighting the urge too much if you’re well on this side of obese.

Photo by Flickr user Steve Dinn under Creative Commons license.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. But it is surprising that people who are slightly over the ideal BMI live longer than those within the ideal range…

    The “smoking” suggestion may be inviting since it appeals to conventional wisdom and socially approved stereotypes, but what needs to be examined seriously is whether the definition of an “ideal” BMI may be faulty.

  2. Boyd says:

    I concur. If you’re likely to die sooner, ‘splain to me again how it’s ideal?

  3. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    The “thin” guys in this study a really thin. A BMI of 18.5 corresponds to 6’0″ height at 135 lbs. That’s pretty darn thin.

  4. Drew says:


    Hey honey! Break out the pate and camembert……..and what shall it be: St. Emilion or Margaux?

  5. JKB says:

    But it is surprising that people who are slightly over the ideal BMI live longer than those within the ideal range:

    I believe this study would indicate that the “ideal” BMI is well not ideal. Unless the ideal parameter is chosen for something other than longevity. Perhaps it is chosen for attractiveness?

  6. teqjack says:

    Actually, Japan over a year ago adopted for its internal health measures a BMI scale five points higher per category than the one WHO recommended for that country when earlier research showed the same sort of results. In the US, you have to look for it because it is not highlighted, but the CDC report[s] also show this – while continuing to recommend the WHO standard.

    Links to actual reports may be found here –
    JunkFood Science

  7. steve says:

    This is old news. This study has ben done before. As alluded to above, the definition which should probably change is that of too thin. We should probably rate anything under a BMI of 20 as underweight.


  8. RCis4Brian says:

    As a long time BMI of 28, the standard range is FOS. If you develop upper body strength at the gym, you rise to “obese” ranks. If you cycle 200 miles/week or run 25 miles/week, your legs take you into the “obese” ranks. My body fat is under 12. Go figure. The BMI applies to sedentary, non-active persons, virtually worthless as a true measure. Try the following site for a more accurate measurement:

  9. (To the tune of the theme from Fame!)

    I’m gonna live forever
    My ass is gonna be wide

    My thighs are rubbin’ together
    My penis is tryin’ to hide

    Does this come in size fifty-seven?
    My titties hang down like a dame’s

    I’m gonna live forever
    baby remember my name

    Remember, remember, (wheeze) remember, remember,
    Is that enough? I’m a little winded is all. Remember, remember, remember, remember. Oy.

  10. I hope this doesn’t give people reason to keep on supersizing their meals. Though I think that the link between skinny people and their life spans is valid, this reverse does not necessarily be true.

  11. dutchmarbel says:

    It also depends on race. A while ago I found this table with the relative riscs for men & women of various origins.