It sounds completely counterintuitive, but some researchers are suggesting that individuals with a high body mass index (BMI) are less likely to die of a heart attack than skinny people.

“It gets you thinking about assumptions that you have on weight and risk factors,” sports cardiologist Dr. John Higgins of UT Health Medical School tells KTRH News.  “I know traditionally cardiovascular risk factors, things like high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and smoking are often correlated with being overweight.  We know those risk factors in the Framingham study have been shown to increase risks of heart attack and stroke, and the more you have the worse it is.”

It is called the Obesity Paradox.  The Mayo Clinic released two papers adding more understand to the notion that while the factors that lead to weight gain cause heart disease and other potentially fatal medical conditions, there is something about all that weight the protects those people following heart surgery and from sudden heart attacks.

“It’s possible that if other people have conditions going on it might lead them to lose weight, so it’s possible people who are underweight have other underlying problems,” says Dr. Higgins.

One study looked at tens of thousands of people who underwent surgery for clogged arteries and found that overweight, even obese, patients had a higher rate of survival: 25% higher.  

The second study concludes that perhaps BMI is not the only appropriate factor to calculate a person’s risk of dying from a cardiac event, but lean mass index (LMI) may play a role as well. Lean mass is everything that isn’t far – bones, muscles, tissues, organs, et al. 

The authors are very quick to say being overweight is as likely to lead to death as smoking, and in no way should anyone conclude that their

findings are good news for people struggling with weight issues.  The reports offer additional insight into the obesity paradox, but not an endorsement for packing on the pounds.

“When we look at a person’s total medical condition and their report card we talk about both the quality of life and how long they live.  The evidence that we have available does show that if you are overweight and particularly if you are obese you will have more of those chronic medical conditions that will affect your quality of life,” says Dr. Higgins.