Is it True that Overweight People Live Longer?

Diabetes. Cancer. Heart disease. Stroke. Extra pounds raise the risk of nearly every health threat facing Americans. Yet, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published—and publicized—a study suggesting that overweight people live longer.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” says Michael Thun, vice president emeritus for surveillance and epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society. “It perpetuates a myth.” Here’s how.

At first glance, the new JAMA study seems impressive.

The CR Diet Truth: Will Calorie Restriction Prolong your Life?

“We’ve known for a long time that if you reduce the calorie intake of rats or mice, they live much longer,” says Mark Mattson, chief of the laboratory of neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) in Baltimore.

What happens in species closer to humans is more complicated. Rhesus monkeys fed 30 percent fewer calories lived longer in a study at the University of Wisconsin, but not in a study at the NIA.

Why the different results? One possibil­ity: The Wisconsin monkeys were fed few­er calories than monkeys fed as much high-sugar, high-fat food as they want­ed. In contrast, the NIA monkeys were fed fewer calories than monkeys fed as much (low-sugar, low-fat) food as they needed to maintain their weight.

What's the Best Diet for Weight Loss?

What’s the best diet for weight loss? So far, no one has found a magic bullet.

“We had three decades of low-fat, and we had a decade of ‘Oh, wait, no, maybe low- carb,’ and then at the end of that we said ‘Oh, never mind, neither of them works,’” says Christopher Gardner, director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.

But several glimpses of new evidence are giving researchers renewed hope. They’re looking not just at how many calories people eat and burn, but at their genes, the microbes in their gut, how much they sleep, and more.

How to Live a Healthy Life Starting Today

It’s tough to change your diet. We are creatures of habit.

Yet we change at the drop of a hat when we find a new cereal, soup, or frozen dinner at the supermarket. And we’re perfectly willing to try a new salad, sandwich, or entrée on the restaurant menu.

Maybe that’s because it’s so easy to do those things. When we wanted to know how to live a healthy life, we looked at a lot of suggestions, and made some changes. (Okay, some we’re still working on.) If any of these are new to you, why not give them a spin?