En español | The day after Thanksgiving, a collective groan goes up as millions of Americans step on the bathroom scale. But here's a consoling thought: A few extra pounds may in fact be a good thing — plumping up a sagging face and providing protective cushioning for increasingly brittle bones.
A growing body of evidence points in this direction. In 2005, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at body mass index or BMI — an estimate of a person's body fat calculated by height and weight — and found that overweight people [with a BMI of 25 to 29.9] had less chance of dying than people with a normal BMI or a low BMI. For those over age 70 the evidence was even stronger. Says Katherine M. Flegal, CDC senior research scientist and lead author of the 2005 study, "The lower your BMI the worse your chances of survival."
"Banging on older people just because their BMI is 26 or 27 [when] some researchers say it's supposed to be under 25 is just silly," says G. David Williamson, a professor at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health. "I don't see any evidence that function or longevity are compromised in that narrow range."
For people with osteoporosis a few extra pounds may actually be beneficial. "The more stress you put on bones, the more they grow, so someone who weighs more will have denser bones," says Timothy Church, M.D., professor at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. "That's an advantage as we grow older and lose one to two percent of muscle a year."
Younger or plumper?
Another plus to a little body fat is that it provides "volume replacement," filling in the wrinkles and sunken areas of the face to provide a more youthful appearance. Last year, doctors at Case Western Reserve University compared photos of identical twins ages 40 and older and found the heavier twin, with a BMI at least four points higher, looked younger than the thinner sibling, who often appeared gaunt or haggard. For twins over age 55, the twin with a BMI that was eight points higher looked younger, according to the study.