Explaining the obesity paradox: It’s muscle mass, not fat, that helps you live longer

According to the “obesity paradox,” people who are obese or overweight tend to have a lower risk of dying during a specific time period, compared to individuals with a “normal” weight.

However, a study indicates that the obesity paradox can somehow be explained by one factor. Specifically, a person’s muscle mass.

The researchers who spearheaded the study took note of an individual’s body mass index (BMI) and muscle mass, and they determined that the risk of death due to any cause was higher among people with various BMI levels and low muscle mass, unlike those who had more muscle mass and the same BMI level.

BMI and muscle mass

The obesity paradox seems to clash with research that proves how a BMI in the normal range is connected to “the lowest risk of death during a study period,” which implies that a normal BMI is key to living longer.

The researchers noted that while it remains unknown what low muscle mass has to do with a greater risk of death at almost every BMI level, it’s possible that more muscle mass can help prevent chronic disease or age-related disabilities. (Related: Increasing muscle mass, not just losing weight, will help prevent diabetes.)

BMI is determined using an individual’s weight and height, and the result indicates a person’s body fat levels. BMI results help researchers compare the relative weights of people across populations.

Generally, a BMI lower than 18.5 is considered underweight. A BMI from 18.5 to 24.9 is “normal weight,” while 25 to 29.9 is overweight, and 30 and above is considered obese. But the calculation for a BMI doesn’t factor in muscle mass.

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Dr. Matthew Abramowitz, an associate professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and study co-author, said that when you factor in discrepancies in muscle mass among, the protective effects linked to being overweight are nullified and the risk of death connected to obesity is brought to light. This effectively disproves the obesity paradox.

The study found that participants with a low muscle mass and a BMI of between 22 and 24.9 had a 26-percent higher risk of death during the study period than those in the same BMI category but with more muscle mass.

In the same vein, those with a low muscle mass and a BMI of 25 to 29.9 had a 49-percent greater risk of dying during the study period than individuals with more muscle mass in the same BMI category. Dr. Abramowitz posited that earlier studies which relied on BMI could have miscalculated the risk linked to excess body fat.

BMI, which is used as an index, doesn’t differentiate between fat mass and muscle mass. This means a person with more muscle will have a higher BMI. They will also have more body fat, which can make it harder to point out the dangers of increased body fat.

Dr. Abramowitz commented that, based on the study’s findings, adding muscle mass as a factor during analysis can help disprove the obesity paradox. Since individuals with low muscle mass are not considered in the analysis, or when differences in muscle mass are factored in, any risks linked to high BMI are exaggerated and the level of BMI linked with the higher chance of living longer “shifts downward toward a normal weight.”

Dr. Abramowitz concluded that even if BMI is a useful measurement for health professionals, its limitations should also be considered.

Tips to lose weight naturally

If you’re worried about those extra pounds, here are some diet and nutrition tips that can help you lose weight:

  • Control your intake of added sugar – Eating foods with too much added sugar is connected to some of the most fatal diseases like cancer, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes. Lowering your intake of added sugar can help improve your diet.
  • Eat healthy foods and snacks – Stock up on healthy food at home so you can improve your eating habits. You can even help your family members reach a healthy weight by providing them with access to more organic fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat more whole and single-ingredient foods – Following a diet based on whole, single-ingredient foods can help you lose weight since this will cut out anything with added sugar and added fat. It also eliminates processed foods. Eating more whole foods is also linked to weight loss.
  • Skip processed foods – Processed foods are full of added sugars, added fats, and calories. They are also linked to addiction-like eating behavior.

You can read more articles about natural ways to get in shape and increase your muscle mass at Slender.

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