Do Overweight People Live Longer?

Do overweight people live longer? Yes, according to a slew of new research.

The study, which was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reviewed more than 100 previously published research papers about the link between body weight and mortality risk for nearly 3 million participants. Not surprisingly, obese people had an increased risk of death during the course of the study. But interestingly, overweight (but not obese) individuals had a 6% decreased risk of mortality when compared to their so-called “normal weight” counterparts. The findings held true despite gender, smoking status and region of the world.

With more than 2/3 of Americans overweight, the term “normal weight” is actually a bit misleading. The study used body mass index (BMI) categories set by the Word Health Organization as follows:

  • Underweight = BMI less than 18.
  • Normal weight = BMI between 18.5 and 25
  • Overweight = BMI between 25 and 30
  • Obese = BMI of over 30

The findings aren’t really new, but many people continue to be surprised by the data. Most people don’t expect to find a benefit associated with being overweight, so what’s the real story? Why might overweight people actually live longer?

There are a few theories.

For one, overweight people may get better medical care because they’re either screened more regularly or already seeking treatment for an ailment. This added medical care might give overweight individuals a leg up on their thinner counterparts.

Alternatively, the researchers believe there may be a high chance for overweight people to survive medical emergencies. For example, if you get sick and lose 20 pounds, it helps to have the extra 20 pounds to lose.

Or it could be that the thin people are thin because they’re already sick. It could basically be a case of reverse causation. Perhaps being thin doesn’t make you sick, but being sick makes you thin.

Moreover, the study doesn’t look at quality of life or how healthy thin vs. overweight individuals were at the time of death.

The study certainly isn’t a free pass to gain some extra weight or to eat an extra scoop of ice cream. Instead, it shows us how complicated the link is between our weight, our health and our longevity.

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  1. It means 1- don’t be obese; 2- don’t carry your weight on your belly; 3- don’t otherwise obsess about weight; 4- eat healthy and stay active.

  2. I’ve heard about this, from actual working scientists and doctors, and they seem to indicate that there were methodological error which make the results less than certain. Also, is 6% relative or absoulte risk?

  3. You make a very important statement when you say”…For one, overweight people may get better medical care because they’re either screened more regularly …” which is true.

    Ideally, people should see a doctor frequently to prevent themselves from becoming ill, and ironically, a better diagnosis is capable of being done if secondary complications don’t cloud the issue with secondary but confusing symptoms, and a doctor much more well acquainted with the chronic problems is much more likely to make an accurate diagnosis when they know the patient and the condition the person is in.

    The other sad side of the coin is that the medical community may be better equipped to deal with the average overweight person’s illnesses than the skinnier counterparts who rarely see a doctor at all until it’s too late.

    I’d say, stay fit and stay healthy, and don’t surprise your doctor, let your doctor help you keep from getting sick.


  4. christopher says:

    overweight a little is ok-provided you watch your weight-obese is totally out of the question.the less overweight-the better.obesity in this country is a very serious problem-we need to watch carefully what we eat.

  5. Simple, it’s based on a better chance to survive physical trauma to the body. More body mass, whether it muscle or fat minimizes the chance for organ damage and mass arterial bleeding, and thermic loss as well as buying time before different types of shock sets in,. Specifically in blunt and some types of penetrating trauma but also some non-external events (a bigger mass person has a better chance of surviving a cardiac event, all other things equal).
    If you completely rule out trauma and externally induced evebt, these mortality rates will differ..