BACKGROUND: Obesity is associated with diverse health risks, but the role of body weight as a risk factor for death remains controversial. METHODS: We examined the association between body weight and the risk of death in a 12-year prospective cohort study of 1,213,829 Koreans between the ages of 30 and 95 years. We examined 82,372 deaths from any cause and 48,731 deaths from specific diseases (including 29,123 from cancer, 16,426 from atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, and 3362 from respiratory disease) in relation to the body-mass index (BMI) (the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters). RESULTS: In both sexes, the average baseline BMI was 23.2, and the rate of death from any cause had a J-shaped association with the BMI, regardless of cigarette-smoking history. The risk of death from any cause was lowest among patients with a BMI of 23.0 to 24.9. In all groups, the risk of death from respiratory causes was higher among subjects with a lower BMI, and the risk of death from atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease or cancer was higher among subjects with a higher BMI. The relative risk of death associated with BMI declined with increasing age. CONCLUSIONS: Underweight, overweight, and obese men and women had higher rates of death than men and women of normal weight. The association of BMI with death varied according to the cause of death and was modified by age, sex, and smoking history.
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