5 surprising myths about excess weight

May 1932 - Modern Mechanix
May 1932 – Modern Mechanix

by Carolyn Thomas @HeartSisters

We know that carrying excess body weight is bad for our health.  Or is it?  Recent studies have looked at overall health outcomes of overweight subjects and found these surprising results that may make us look twice at some older myths about being overweight:

MYTH No. 1:  A high BMI number means you need to lose weight.

FACT: Body Mass Index (BMI) has been considered the best indicator of obesity, but it doesn’t differentiate between weight gained by pumping iron or weight gained by eating too many Tim Horton maple dips.  Having a BMI number over 25 is considered overweight, and a BMI over 30 is considered obese.  But Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, had a BMI of 33 at the peak of his body-building career.  

MYTH No. 2:  Extra pounds are always bad news.

FACT:   People considered overweight by these BMI standards – 25 to 30 – might actually have a survival advantage after heart attacks and surgery. Researchers say that people who are overweight are also less likely to die from respiratory diseases, Alzheimer’s, liver disease, and a number of other causes than people of normal weight in the same age bracket. Only those who are actually considered obese have clearly higher risks of heart disease mortality compared to normal weight or overweight people.

MYTH No. 3: Weight loss is always good, no matter how you achieve it.

FACT:  Yo-yo dieting can strain the heart, disturb your metabolism and cause other serious health problems. That’s why experts generally recommend a slow steady weight loss of no more than one pound per week, instead of crash dieting to lose weight quickly only to rapidly gain it all back. Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are very different from crash and yo-yo dieting, but they can lead to potentially fatal cardiac arrhythmias and other serious problems.  Researchers now advise that it’s better to be 5-10 pounds overweight than to engage in unhealthy weight loss plans.

MYTH No. 4: Slender equals healthy.

FACT: Slender may look good, but people who are relatively thin can still carry unhealthy visceral fat internally that pads vital organs, putting them at risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer.  You can’t assess cardiac risk factors from just looking at people’s physical shape. We sometimes think that diabetes is linked to inactivity and overeating, for example, yet 20% of diabetics are thin – likely thanks to genetics.

MYTH No. 5: Fat is fat, and it’s always bad.

FACT: Even overweight people can actually be fit. Your fitness is  partly based on how quickly your heart rate returns to normal after exertion; the quicker the heart can recover, the better shape it’s in. Researchers now suggest that overweight people with fatty liver deposits are at much greater cardiovascular and diabetes risk than overweight people without them.

Extra weight seems to be worse for some people than others. But physical activity and a healthy diet do tend to offset the risks of being overweight; if you’re only slightly overweight but still active, you may be less likely to experience health problems like heart disease. Data from more than 88,000 women in the Nurses Health Study shows that lean but sedentary women had 1.48 times the risk for coronary heart disease than heavier but physically active women.

Find out more about these myths.  Also read:


   Note: information on this site is not intended as a substitute for medical advice.  Please read the disclaimer.

3 thoughts on “5 surprising myths about excess weight

  1. I’m concerned that info like this will somehow give obese and overweight people permission they don’t need to keep eating bad food and not exercising! Seems we need more info to encourage them to be LESS fat, not find excuses for being so fat in the first place!


    1. I agree, J&F – although there does appear to be a difference in health risks between being obese and overweight. Much of this info also confirms the importance of being physically fit, even when carrying a few extra pounds. For more on the profound importance of exercise, see also: What Prevents Heart Disease “Better Than Any Drug”? : “Research from the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, Texas has found that it is actually better for our hearts to be fit than to be thin. Unfit, lean people in their study had a higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease than those who were fit and obese.”


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