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Being Underweight Deadlier Than Obesity

Update Date: Mar 28, 2014 04:52 PM EDT

Being underweight is deadlier than being overweight, according to a new study.

New research reveals that people who are underweight are the highest risk of dying. Researchers aid that this link is true for both adults and fetuses.

Dr. Joel Ray, a physician-researcher at St. Michael's Hospital and the hospital's Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute and his team looked at 51 research papers examining the association between body mass index and deaths from any cause.  Researchers said all the studies included in the latest research tracked people for five years or longer, and participants who were underweight because of cancer or chronic lung disease or heart failure were omitted from the data.

They found that adults who are underweight or who had a BMI under 18.5 or less are 1.8 times more likely to die than those with a "normal" BMI of 18.5 to 24.9. However, the risk of dying was only 1.2 times for people who are obese, and 1.3 times for people who were severely obese.

Researchers said that common causes of being underweight include malnourishment, heavy alcohol or drug use, smoking, low-income status, mental health or unhealthy lifestyle.

"BMI reflects not only body fat, but also muscle mass. If we want to continue to use BMI in health care and public health initiatives, we must realize that a robust and healthy individual is someone who has a reasonable amount of body fat and also sufficient bone and muscle," Ray said in a news release. "If our focus is more on the ills of excess body fat, then we need to replace BMI with a proper measure, like waist circumference."

"We have obligation to ensure that we avoid creating an epidemic of underweight adults and fetuses who are otherwise at the correct weight. We are, therefore, obliged to use the right measurement tool," he concluded.

The findings are published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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