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Even a little extra weight can shorten your life: study

Being a little overweight can kill you, according to new U.S. research that leaves little room for denial that a few extra pounds is harmful. Adults who were even just a tad pudgy were more likely to die prematurely than those who were at a healthy weight, U.S. researchers reported this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

While obesity has been known to contribute to early death, the link between being overweight and dying prematurely has been controversial. Some experts have argued that a few extra pounds does no harm.

However, this is one of the first major studies to take into account the factors of smoking and chronic illness, which can complicate efforts to figure out how much weight itself is responsible for early death.

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The research, by scientists at the National Cancer Institute, was part of a study that involved more than half a million people, aged 50 to 71, participating in a research project by the National Institutes of Health and AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons.

Researchers analyzed patients' body-mass index and mortality rate over a 10-year period from questionnaires they filled out in 1995 and 1996 detailing their weight and diet. In a separate analysis of 186,000 healthy people -- who had never smoked -- overweight people were 20 to 40 per cent more likely to die prematurely than normal-weight people. (The risk increased two- to three-fold for obese people.)

"The cumulative evidence is now even stronger," said Michael Thun, chief epidemiologist of the American Cancer Society, who had no role in the research. "Being overweight does increase health risks. It's not simply a cosmetic or social problem."

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