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Extra Weight May Have Health Benefits

A new study concludes that being a five to 10 kilos overweight may not be as harmful to health as is commonly believed, and may actually confer some benefits when it comes to certain cancers and heart disease. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.

It has been widely assumed that people who are above their ideal weight are at increased risk of death from heart disease and cancer.

But researchers from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia found Americans who are overweight are less likely to die of heart disease and cancers - including those commonly associated with excess weight, such as breast, kidney, pancreatic and colon cancer.

The study's lead author, Katherine Flegal, is a senior scientist at the CDC.

".... what we found is that overweight was associated with a significantly reduced number of deaths from those causes," Dr. Flegal said.

The study analyzed statistics about two-point-four-million U.S. adults gathered between 1971 and 2004. But the findings potentially apply to the 1.6 billion people worldwide who the World Health Organization says are overweight in proportion to their height.

Surprisingly, researchers also found that being overweight may be protective from other causes of death not commonly associated excess weight, such as tuberculosis and Alzheimer's disease.

But the study finds overweight people do have a higher chance of dying from diabetes and kidney disease.

And it found obese people, those more than 15 kilos above their ideal weight, have a higher risk of death from a variety of illnesses, including some cancers and heart disease. The World Health Organization says about 400 million individuals around the globe are grossly overweight

Dr. Flegal says their overall chance of dying of cancer at first does not appear to be increased.

"But then we divided cancer into sub-groups, including a group of cancers that are considered to be obesity-related, like colon cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, and some others," Dr. Flegal said. "And in that case we actually found that about 11 percent of deaths from those cancers were associated with obesity."

Dr. Flegal says people should not interpret the findings - that extra kilos may be protective against cancer and heart disease - as license to maintain an unhealthy lifestyle.

"I would like to emphasize that our study does not change the basic public health recommendations," Dr. Flegal said. "You should eat right, get some activity, and do not smoke. Nothing about our study changes those recommendations."

Yet to be determined is why people who are above their ideal weight appear not to be at increased risk of dying of cancer and heart disease.