Obesity is associated with a host of health problems. But a new study finds that obese people may actually have an advantage in a specific medical situation: they’re less likely to die after surgery from certain respiratory complications than are their non-obese counterparts. The finding was published online by the Journal of Intensive Care Medicine. [Stavros Memtsoudis et al., "Mortality of Patients with Respiratory Insufficiency and Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome after Surgery: The Obesity Paradox," link to come]
Obese surgical patients get slightly fewer cases of the conditions known as respiratory insufficiency and adult respiratory distress syndrome. And their risk of dying in the hospital from these breathing difficulties was less than a third that of the non-obese patients who developed the same respiratory challenges.
The researchers have various ideas about why. People carrying more weight could have more energy and nutritional stores to draw upon. Also, fatty tissue could be soaking up some of the inflammation compounds that exacerbate the breathing issues. Or it may be more simple: doctors and nurses may expect their fatter patients to have a tougher time, so they give them more attention.
Further study could reveal why the bigger patients have the smaller risk—which might lead to strategies to lower the risk for those lower in weight.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]