Twins with higher body mass indexes were less likely to have a heart attack or die than their leaner siblings, a study reveals.
A new study of Swedish twins published in JAMA Internal Medicine reveals that being heavy may not come with the health costs we typically assume of it, such as heart attack or an early death, though researchers did find a link between higher body mass index and Type 2 diabetes. The findings call into question the wisdom behind recommending weight loss as a preventative treatment in some cases.
‘Twins with higher BMI are less likely to die due to heart attacks compared to their thinner siblings, but they are found to have a greater chance of developing Type 2 diabetes.’
AdvertisementResearchers examined the medical records of over 4,000 identical twin pairs previously enrolled in a long-running population study and found that twins with higher body mass indexes were less likely to have a heart attack or die during the course of the study than their leaner siblings. The middle-aged pairs each had one twin with a higher body mass index (BMI) than the other and were tracked for an average of 12 years as they entered old age. To their surprise, the researchers found no noticeable difference in the rate of heart attacks or premature death between the group of twins with higher BMI and the group with lower BMI, even when they exclusively looked at obese individuals or twin pairs where the weight difference was dramatic. Supporting earlier research, however, they did find a sustained link between Type 2 diabetes risk and higher BMI.
"What the study does show is that there's a strong association between obesity and diabetes, which leads us to conclude that weight reduction interventions can be more effective against diabetes than when it comes to reducing the risk of heart attack and mortality," said lead author Dr. Peter Nordström, a chief physician in the Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation at Sweden's Umeå University, in a statement.
The results showed that among twin siblings with a higher BMI (mean value 25.1), there were 203 heart attacks (5%) and 550 deaths (13.6%) during the follow-up period while among twin siblings with a lower BMI (mean value 23.9), there were 209 heart attacks (5.2%) and 633 deaths (15.6%) during the same period.
Because the authors looked exclusively at identical twins and found no difference in heart attack or mortality risk between the two groups, the authors suggest that genetic factors may better explain why earlier research had shown a connection between these conditions and higher weight. In contrast, the findings only reaffirm how closely connected obesity is to the development of Type 2 diabetes.
Though most research has shown a positive link between poorer health and higher weight, other studies have muddled the picture.
For one, scientists have long known about the so-called obesity paradox, where obese people with chronic conditions like heart disease or diabetes are better protected against dying than their thinner counterparts. Some research has also shown that people who are merely overweight live slightly longer than normal weight people. And an extensive randomized clinical trial of obese people with Type 2 diabetes found that while people who were on a diet and exercise plan lost slightly more weight than people who were given the standard diabetes treatment after eight years time, they weren't any less likely to die early or develop cardiovascular disease.
When the authors of the current study looked at all 8,000 participants at once, they found that people with a relatively high or low BMI had a greater risk of dying early, and obese individuals were 37% more likely to develop heart attack or die early than were normal weight people, even after accounting for other factors like age, smoking history, and level of physical activity. Because of the earlier findings though, the authors concluded that may be due more to genetic factors than obesity. It might also be the case that being overweight or obese isn't necessarily damaging to our heart health, but only up until a certain point.
Even if weight loss doesn't necessarily improve one's chances of staving off a heart attack or dying too young, lifestyle changes like regular exercise or a healthier diet certainly will.
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