The team from Umea University monitored 1.3 million men for 30 years before concluding that being a healthy weight is the most important factor for long-term health. The research showed that obese people who exercised regularly are more likely to die before slim people who never worked out.
Researchers said the findings, which were published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, disproved the myth that being fit made up for being obese.
"Unfit normal-weight individuals had 30 percent lower risk of death from any cause than did fit obese individuals," said Professor Peter Nordstrom. "These results suggest low BMI (body mass index) early in life is more important than high physical fitness, with regard to reducing the risk of early death."
Overall men in the highest fifth of aerobic fitness had a 48 percent lower risk of death from any cause compared with those in the lowest fifth. Those men had an 80 percent lower chance of death associated with alcohol or drug abuse, a 59 percent lower chance of suicide, and a 45 percent drop in heart disease deaths.
But when these men were obese regular exercise was no advantage to them and they were still far more likely to die early, compared to slim men.
Professor Sally Davies, England's chief medical officer, said earlier this month that obesity is the "biggest threat" to the health of future generations and is such a threat to the country that it should be classed as a "national risk," like terrorism. Around two thirds of Brits are overweight or obese and nearly a third of 2–15-year-olds are obese.
The government's childhood obesity strategy, which has been delayed until January 2016, is expected to focus on product reformulation and an advertising ban and restrictions on promotions of certain unhealthy foods.
Public Health England has backed Jamie Oliver's call for a "sugar tax" of up to 20 percent to cut the consumption of sugary drinks in the U.K.
In the meantime it's pretty simple. Set a good example to your kids — and improve your chances of living a long, healthy life — by eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly. Harder for some than others, granted, but it's not rocket science.
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