When Janet Servoss shops for clothes in Orange County, California, she sees plenty of selection in sizes 0, 2 and 4, but fewer in sizes 12 and 14. "You're bombarded by it daily," she said of the message that thin is better. "It's everywhere." But according to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, being thin might not be in your best interest in the long run.
The report is drawing strong reaction in the medical community, among proponents who hail its findings and among critics, one of whom dismisses it as "rubbish." The comprehensive study confirmed that obese people tend to die earlier than people of normal weight. But it also found that overweight people -- those with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 30 -- had a lower risk of dying than people of normal weight. "If I were to look at this study and if it is shown to be true, I would think maybe I should be worrying less that I'm wearing a size 12 and focus on how I feel," said Servoss, a 44-year-old nurse whose BMI fluctuates from 24 to 26.
Researchers analyzed nearly 100 studies that included more than 2.8 million people. While obese people had a higher risk of death -- particularly those whose BMI was 35 or more -- overweight people had a 6% lower risk of death than those of normal weight. "Because this bias against weight has been so prevalent, it's really been unquestioned, and I think this concept that thin is healthy and fat is not healthy is clearly not true," said Michelle May, a physician and author of "Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat."
Some thin people exercise excessively and don't eat a balanced diet, and there are people in the overweight and obese categories who have good diets and are active, she said. May said people need to focus on choices about eating and physical activity rather than be concerned about the numbers on a scale. "I find it interesting that the reason they did this is because this is something that has shown up over and over again. It is challenging to shift a paradigm that has become so deeply entrenched, that being overweight by BMI category automatically puts you at high risk," she said. "We have had for decades now an obsession with thinness and an obsession with weight and how to lose it," he said. "I think the forces in our culture -- in fashion, in fitness, in health and wellness -- all have been predicated on, 'A thin body is a good body and a fat body is a bad body,' and that's wrong. I have always believed that a good, healthy body can come in many shapes and sizes." "It's a good message, but I still think people would rather be thin."