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BMI in overweight range not a higher risk for health problems

November 21, 2017

After applying a number of statistical tests to the data, the researchers found that among all age groups, with few exceptions, there was no significant difference in the severity of illness between those with normal weight and overweight BMIs. There was a slight increase in the percentage of medication use among men age 40 to 70 with overweight BMIs when compared to men of normal weight.

"Thus, having a BMI in the overweight range, by itself, was not generally associated with an increased medication load," Jarrett said.

In addition, a higher BMI had less of an impact on medication use in younger people than it did in the two older age groups - a sign to the researchers that the age of onset of a high BMI should factor into assessments of health risk, especially in young people.

Jarrett said the emphasis on BMI can have damaging psychological effects on young people who, this study suggests, typically do not have health problems related to their weight. Though the BMI is convenient, it doesn't take into account different body types or gender differences; a measure of body fat percentage would offer a more accurate picture of risks associated with an individual's weight, he said.

"I think that the effects of BMI on health have more to do with the stress effects on health than the weight-related effects on health, especially in those with a BMI of 25 to30," he said. "At a young age you're fine, health-wise, even with a high BMI, but who worries most about BMI? Young people. It's something they think about every single day, every time they put on their clothes and every time they look in the mirror."

On the other hand, obesity was associated with a significant increase in medication use among adults age 40 to 70. For example, almost 70 percent of obese women age 40 to 54 were taking medication in the later time frame, compared to about 57 percent of women with a normal weight. Among men of the same age in the same time frame, medication use was 61 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

These figures also speak to the higher percentage of women than men taking medication and taking more medicines than men, a trend seen in this study as well as previous research. Scientists can only theorize about why this is, Jarrett noted.

As for the overall increased medication use among older adults in the more recent group (2003-2006), Jarrett suggested that this trend could relate to an increase in illness associated with the overall increase in BMI over time or could be attributed to more aggressive physician approaches to treatments that accompany advances in technology.

SOURCE Ohio State University