Overweight people more likely to survive a stroke, study shows

PHILADELPHIA — Carrying some extra weight does have its upsides, despite all the experts telling us otherwise. A new study shows that being overweight — or even obese — may actually increase one’s chances of surviving a stroke.

Researchers say the study falls in line with similar findings under a phenomenon known as the obesity paradox, which theorizes that obesity can be beneficial for some groups — particularly older individuals or those with chronic disease.

“It was first noticed that carrying extra weight may play a role in survival for people who had suffered from kidney and heart disease, so we felt the need to investigate whether it also was tied to improved stroke survival,” explains study author Dr. Zuolu Liu, MD in a release by the American Academy of Neurology.

For the study, researchers followed 1,033 people in southern California who’d suffered an acute ischemic stroke, monitoring them for three months. Patients, who were typically in their early 70s, had their body mass index calculated and were then split into one of five groups: underweight, normal, overweight, obese, and severely obese.

The authors found that those who were severely obese were 62 percent less likely to die than patients who were of normal weight. Similarly, risk of death was 46 percent less for obese patients and 15 percent less for overweight individuals. On the other hand, those who fell into the underweight category were 67 percent more likely to die after a stroke.

In all, only 11 of the 95 patients who were severely obese died, versus six of the 24 underweight patients. Fifty-five of the 327 normal weight patients also passed away after the stroke, along with 58 of 395 overweight patients, and 19 of 192 obese individuals.

“One possible explanation is that people who are overweight or obese may have a nutritional reserve that may help them survive during prolonged illness,” says Liu. “More research is needed to investigate the relationship between body mass index and stroke.”

The authors say they did adjust for other factors including cholesterol, blood pressure, or smoking. The racial/ethnic representation among participants was comparable to the national population, they add.

The study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 71st Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in May.