Published on 14 May 2015

Recent newspaper reports that highlighted the findings of a study that claimed overweight people with type 2 diabetes are less likely to die early than those of a normal weight are to be treated with caution, warn the NHS.

A recent study of more than 10,000 older adults in England (with an average of of 63) found that overweight people had a 13% reduced risk of death compared with people who had a “normal” weight.

A healthy weight score was based on the body mass index (BMI) result of those taking part in the study. The risk of death was no different between obese people and those with a normal BMI.

People are recommended to aim for a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise

However, the report also found that people who were overweight or obese had an increased risk of cardiovascular disease events, including heart attacks and strokes, that required hospitalisation.

The report ‘The Obesity Paradox in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: Relationship of Body Mass Index to Prognosis: A Cohort Study’ by researchers from University of Hull, Imperial College London and Federico II University in Naples, Italy was recently published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study included adults diagnosed with type 2 diabetes who attended the outpatient clinic of a single NHS hospital in England, with a follow-up period of around 10 years. The researchers looked at whether the BMI of those taking part in the study was linked to their risk of heart problems or death from any cause.

The participants had attended the clinic between 1995 and 2005, and had their results entered into a patient registry. A total of 10,568 people with type 2 diabetes (54% men) were included.

The researchers concluded: "In this study, people with type 2 diabetes who were overweight or obese were more likely to be hospitalised for cardiovascular reasons. Being overweight was associated with a lower mortality risk, but being obese was not."

An NHS Behind the Headlines analysis of the study said: “It is worth remembering that living longer does not guarantee a good quality of life, and obesity has a range of unpleasant complications.

“However, caution must be taken before concluding from the findings of this cohort that "being FAT", as Mail Online states, is a good thing for people with type 2 diabetes.

“Great care must be taken before jumping to the conclusion that being overweight could be good for people with type 2 diabetes. As seen in this study, being overweight or obese increased the risk of diabetes complications, which could have an adverse impact on quality of life, even if not fatal.

“The findings could also have been influenced by various factors other than BMI, including how well people’s diabetes is controlled. Further study is needed to uncover the biological mechanism, if there is a real link.

“Current advice remains the same – whatever your current health, aim for a healthy BMI through a balanced diet and regular exercise.”

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