Heavier is now healthier: Danish study

Being on the heavier side may not be as dangerous as it was in the 1970s, at least when it comes to the risk of dying, according to a Danish study released on Tuesday.

Heavier is now healthier: Danish study
Being overweight might actually decrease the risk of death. Photo: Colourbox
The optimum ratio of weight and height — known as body mass index or BMI — is now on the upper side of the healthy range, according to the report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
“Compared to the 1970s, today's overweight individuals have lower mortality than so-called normal weight individuals,” said Børge Nordestgaard, clinical professor at the University of Copenhagen and Copenhagen University Hospital. “The reason for this change is unknown.”
The report was based on more than 100,000 people in Denmark. The study spanned three groups, or cohorts, whose risk of dying for any reason was examined in 1976-78, 1991-1994, and in 2003-2013.
Currently, doctors define the normal range for BMI — calculated by weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared — as between 18.5 and 24.9.
A BMI of 25-29.9 is considered overweight, while 30 or higher is obese.
In the 1970s, the optimal BMI for the lowest risk of death was 23.7.
This would be the equivalent of a 1.83 meter (six-foot) tall man who weighs 77 kilograms (170 pounds), or a 1.65 meter (five-foot-five) woman who weighs 65 kilograms (143 pounds).
By 1991-94, the optimal BMI had risen to 24.6. And in 2003-2013, it reached 27.
Compared to four decades ago, that would mean adding 14kg (30 pounds) to the frame of the a person who stands six-feet tall, or nine kg (19 pounds) to the frame of someone 1.65 metres tall.
Researchers also found that obese people in the 1970s were more likely to die than normal weight people, but this association disappeared in the 2000s.
“The increased risk of all-cause mortality associated with obesity compared to normal weight decreased from 30 percent 1976-78 to 0 percent in 2003-13,” said principal investigator Shoaib Afzal, of Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark.
Health authorities have long warned of the risks of being overweight, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Nordestgaard said the current findings suggest “a need to revise the categories presently used to define overweight, which are based on data from before the 1990s.”
However, experts cautioned that the biological mechanism behind the new findings remains poorly understood, and the results should not be interpreted to mean that people can cease caring about what they eat.
According to Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow, the study is “of interest” but dos not merit changing advice on obesity and preventing extra pounds.
“In recent years, as populations become more obese and with wider availability of cheap preventative medications many more such individuals are likely to be better treated for abnormal blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol and, if also present, type 2 diabetes, leading in turn to lower death risks,” said Sattar, who was not involved in the study.
“In other words, the current findings do not mean that being overweight is protecting you from death, far from it — rather, many confounding factors may give the current result and we know from many other studies that being overweight or obese does increase mortality risks, in the same way that it
increases risk for many other conditions.”

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New Year’s Eve injury rate bounces back to normal in Denmark

The number of people treated for fireworks-related injuries on New Year's Eve in Denmark has bounced back to normal levels, with 16 people treated for eye injuries after the celebrations.

New Year's Eve injury rate bounces back to normal in Denmark
Fireworks led to 16 eye injuries on New Year's Eve. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

This is up from the unusually low 12 people who were treated for eye injuries during and after the celebrations last year. Two of this year’s injuries are sufficiently severe that the injured are expected to lose their sight completely or partially.

“After a very quiet evening last year, it is back to a normal, average level,” Ulrik Correll Christensen, head doctor at the ophthalmology department at Rigshospitalet, told the country’s Ritzau newswire. “It is a completely extraordinary situation at the eye departments on New Year’s Eve. It is not at all something we see on a daily basis.” 

Christensen has tallied up reports from all of Denmark’s eye units, including the major ones in Copenhagen, Aalborg, Aarhus, Odense and Næstved. 

He said that 15 out of the 16 cases had not worn safety goggles, two thirds were between ten and thirty years old. 

“The most important thing is to follow the advice when firing fireworks. Wear safety goggles and keep a good distance,” he said. 

The number of ambulance call outs on New Year’s Eve is also back to normal, with 1,188 emergency vehicles sent out, compared to 875 last year. 

In the Capital Region of Copenhagen, there were 44 call-outs were related to fireworks, of which 16 were for hand injuries and 14 for eye injuries.