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Scientists now think that being overweight can protect your health

Around a dozen years ago, researchers noticed that some patients with chronic conditions such as heart disease fared better than others. This should have been encouraging news, perhaps a clue to future treatments. Instead, researchers were baffled. Because the factor that seemed to be protecting these patients was fat: They were all overweight or mildly obese.

“When health-care professionals get their first nutrition books, there’s a chapter on obesity,” says Glenn Gaesser, director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University. “And it generally says that fat people are unhealthy and thin people are healthy.”

Researchers immediately began trying to explain this “obesity paradox”—or, more often, to explain it away. Carl Lavie, a cardiologist in Jefferson, Louisiana, was one of the first clinicians to describe the paradox. It took him over a year to find a journal that would publish his findings. “People thought, ‘This can’t be true. There’s got to be something wrong with their data’,” he told Quartz.