A few extra pounds are OK

A new study suggesting that carrying around a few extra pounds might be good for us certainly falls into the category of exasperating medical advice about weight.

Americans have been bombarded in recent years with reports of the nation's obesity epidemic and how too much flab contributes to a distressing variety of ailments and an early death. Last week, however, a study published in the well respected Journal of the American Medical Association said that a few extra pounds not only aren't unhealthy but also may help us survive some illnesses.

The report sparked a heated debate among public health professionals, with anti-obesity advocates saying this is exactly the wrong message to be sending to a nation already losing the battle of the bulge. But the findings appear to demonstrate that, while researchers are clear about the dangers of being extremely over- or underweight, the jury still is out regarding the hazards of being just a little overweight.

The findings released last week are the result of analysis of data compiled over decades by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report stresses that the results don't amount to a free pass to binge. But they do indicate that those who qualify as overweight, but no more than 30 pounds over the recommended weight for their height, have a lower death rate not only than obese or underweight people but also those of normal weight.

That should be comforting to the millions of Americans who, though not obese, are struggling to fit into last year's clothes or fighting to lose those last stubborn pounds.

But don't get too comfortable. Surely, there's another conflicting report just around the corner.