Being underweight puts people at high risk of death, study shows

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Obesity isn’t the only thing that can put people at a higher risk for dying – being underweight also increases a person’s risk of death, according to a study released by St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

In a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health, researchers performed an analysis of 51 studies examining the link between body mass index (BMI) and death from any cause. Each study included in the analyses was required to have lasted for at least five years, to account for those who were temporarily underweight due to malnourishment, substance abuse, smoking, low-income status, mental health or poor self-care.

Overall, results showed that people who are underweight, with a BMI of 18.5 or less, had a 1.8 times higher risk of dying compared to those with a normal BMI range of up to 24.9. Comparatively, people who were obese had a 1.2 times higher risk of dying compared to people at a normal weight, and people who were severely obese had a 1.3 times higher risk.

“Society is appropriately very obesity-focused and concerned with how it impacts disease and death,” study author Dr. Joel Ray, a physician-researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital, told “In the process of focusing on [obesity], we neglected the aspect of the underweight population amongst us.”

However, for a person who is underweight, making healthy improvements may involve more than adjusting how much he or she is eating.

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“The strategies are very different than just increasing caloric intake in the underweight group…For some individuals, it may be a real alteration in the addressing of things in the underlying of their self-neglect,” Ray said.