Previous: Healthcare Triage Live Stream
Next: You Can Do a Lot to Prevent Some Cancers



View count:25,483
Last sync:2024-04-25 12:15
Having a low BMI is associated with increased mortality. High BMI is too. Keep it in that normal range, y'all. This is Healthcare Triage News.

Those of you who want to read more can go here:

John Green -- Executive Producer
Stan Muller -- Director, Producer
Aaron Carroll -- Writer
Mark Olsen -- Graphics

And the housekeeping:

1) You can support Healthcare Triage on Patreon: Every little bit helps make the show better!
2) Check out our Facebook page:
3) We still have merchandise available at
Is a normal BMI better than a high or low BMI? Yes! This is Healthcare Triage News.

To the research!

From the Lancet: Body-mass index and all-cause mortality: individual-participant-data meta-analysis of 239 prospective studies in four continents.

You know there's a big obesity problem, right? Unfortunately, much of the research looking at the relationship between obesity and health outcomes is flawed. Some of it leads to surprising conclusions. For instance, a number of studies exist that show a somewhat protective effect of obesity on mortality. Of course this could be reverse causality. Often, poor health leads to weight loss. Therefore, low BMI is sometimes a marker of poor health, not the cause. But observational studies can't always tease that out. This study used individual data on more than million participants from 239 prospective studies from all over the world. Moreover, almost 4 million of the people were from 189 studies that looked at never-smokers without chronic disease who lived at least five years. This allowed them to limit confounding and reverse causality. They looked at otherwise healthy people who weren't near death, and who didn't smoke (which is also related to both obesity and illness in different ways.) And since they had individual-participant data, they could follow people prospectively over time.

Let's start with a review of BMI. The Body Mass Index is a measure of body fat that's calculated from height and weight. Normal weight is considered 18.5 to 25, less than 18.5 is underweight, 25 up to 30 is considered overweight, and 30 or over is considered obese. BMI's not perfect. People are built differently, and it doesn't account for additional muscle mass. It's a rough estimate of fat, and we should treat it as such. That said, it's a widely used and validated marker in general.

For people with a BMI from 20 to 25, all-cause mortality was minimal. Below that range, mortality jumped 13% for those with a BMI of 18.5 to 20, and 51% for those with a BMI of 15 to 18.5. Overweight was associated with increased mortality, as well. Those with a BMI of 25 to 27.5 (the low end of overweight) had a 7% increase. Those with a BMI of 27.5 to 30 (the high end of overweight) had a 20% increase. And, obesity wasn't good either. Grade 1 obesity (a BMI of 30 to 35) had a 45% increased mortality rate. Grade 2 obesity (a BMI 35 to 40) had a 94% increased mortality rate. And, Grade 3 obesity (with a BMI 40 to 60) had an 176% increased mortality rate.

These relationships were seen all over the world. The association between increased BMI and increased mortality also appeared to be greater in younger people than older people, and greater in men than in women. If you search through the media, you can find articles that say being overweight isn't bad for you and that controversy exists over whether being overweight is better for you for some health metrics. This meta analysis is pretty good evidence against that argument. The association between increased BMI, or overweight, and low BMI, or underweight, and increased mortality is pretty robust in many populations living on four different continents. Having a high or low BMI is not good for you.

Healthcare Triage is supported in part by viewers like you through, a service that allows you to support the show through a monthly donation. We'd especially like to thank our research associate, Joe Sevits, and our surgeon admiral, Sam. Thanks Joe! Thanks Sam! More information can be found at