Are there any health benefits to obesity?

A recent debate in the medical literature has arisen around the mortality effects of obesity. Whereas it has been argued that the obese die younger, the data that have become available do not immediately support this. This potentially undermines the hypothesis that modern life with its physical ease and cheap food would eventually make us die younger, and undermines the notion that economic growth comes with health warnings. We revisit this debate going over the mortality effects of obesity, using the US Health and Retirement Study. Whilst we find that obesity leads to chronic diseases that reduce length of life, we also find that the obese survive strokes and lung disease more often than the non-obese. A possible explanation is that the obese are under greater medical scrutiny, meaning that lung disease is more quickly diagnosed. This result holds when controlling for smoking and the long-term effects of obesity.

Source: “Do the Obese Really Die Younger or Do Health Expenditures Buy Them Extra Years?” from IZA Discussion Paper No. 4149, April 2009

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