If I understand correctly, calorie restriction may extend life expectancy slightly (not proven exactly how much for human). But according to the statistics, skinny healthy people have even shorter life expectancy than healthy, slightly obese people. Could you explain why this is not considered as contradictory?


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    $\begingroup$ Could you include a link to these statistics? $\endgroup$
    – kmm
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 22:53
  • $\begingroup$ The original source is written in Japanese, so I cited the following page written in English. phys.org/news/2009-06-japanese-overweight-people-longest.html $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 23:22
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    $\begingroup$ Could be cultural differences. Young people die alot due to car deaths. $\endgroup$
    – Ro Siv
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 0:27
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    $\begingroup$ rate of ageing and age at death are influenced by many things, calorie intake is just one tiny factor. $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 9:45
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting point. Note that it is "calorific restriction" in the animal experiments, not fat vs skinny mice. Skinny people don't necessarily eat less than average, and I imagine smoking is a big factor (makes you skinny and sick). I wonder if the original study controlled for this. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 12:16

1 Answer 1


This is an interesting point you raise, and as the study you linked to states, "the link between physique and life expectancy is not clearly understood," which is certainly true at the moment. The relationship between BMI and lifespan in humans is a very different story to controlled dietary restriction in model organisms.

Dietary restriction is defined as "undernutrition without malnutrition" [1], and by definition model organisms live in controlled environments. In contrast, humans have confounding factors that may reduce weight and health (for instance smoking status, early-life diseases, malnutrition, etc) that are not modelled in these experiments.

In addition, the relationship between BMI and mortality is complicated in older humans, known as the 'obesity paradox'; overweight and obese elderly hospital patients have a lower mortality risk than low-normal weight patients [2]. There are a number of hypotheses regarding this, but the favoured one appears to be that the association is not actually paradoxial, but that higher BMI only appears protective because losing weight is associated with many diseases of ageing, so after accounting for many of these confounding factors (e.g. dementia, cancer, etc) high BMI no longer appears protective.

Therefore the study you found only appears to be contradictory to the dietary restriction experiments; in human populations the situation is much more complicated. Additionally, there is conflicting evidence as to whether dietary restriction even works in primates [3], let alone in humans (the largest effects are observed in worms and drosophila).

  1. Weindruch et al. The retardation of aging in mice by dietary restriction: longevity, cancer, immunity and lifetime energy intake. (1986) J Nutrition; 116(4):641-54

  2. Yamauchi et al. Paradoxical association between body mass index and in-hospital mortality in elderly patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in Japan. (2014) Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis; 9:1337-46

  3. Maxmen. Calorie restriction falters in the long run. (2012) Nature; 488, 569

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    $\begingroup$ I started writing my own answer and realised you hit each of my points better! Again I would point out that (healthy) skinny people don't necessarily eat more. Although we know that they're skinny, did the study in question confirm that they consumed less calories? $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 12:20

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