Background: Prior mortality studies have concluded that elevated body mass index (BMI) may improve survival. These studies were limited because they did not measure adiposity directly.
Objective: To examine associations of BMI and body fat percentage (separately and together) with mortality.
Design: Observational study.
Setting: Manitoba, Canada.
Participants: Adults aged 40 years or older referred for bone mineral density (BMD) testing.
Measurements: Participants had dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA), entered a clinical BMD registry, and were followed using linked administrative databases. Adjusted, sex-stratified Cox models were constructed. Body mass index and DXA-derived body fat percentage were divided into quintiles, with quintile 1 as the lowest, quintile 5 as the highest, and quintile 3 as the reference.
Results: The final cohort included 49 476 women (mean age, 63.5 years; mean BMI, 27.0 kg/m2; mean body fat, 32.1%) and 4944 men (mean age, 65.5 years; mean BMI, 27.4 kg/m2; mean body fat, 29.5%). Death occurred in 4965 women over a median of 6.7 years and 984 men over a median of 4.5 years. In fully adjusted mortality models containing both BMI and body fat percentage, low BMI (hazard ratio [HR], 1.44 [95% CI, 1.30 to 1.59] for quintile 1 and 1.12 [CI, 1.02 to 1.23] for quintile 2) and high body fat percentage (HR, 1.19 [CI, 1.08 to 1.32] for quintile 5) were associated with higher mortality in women. In men, low BMI (HR, 1.45 [CI, 1.17 to 1.79] for quintile 1) and high body fat percentage (HR, 1.59 [CI, 1.28 to 1.96] for quintile 5) were associated with increased mortality.
Limitations: All participants were referred for BMD testing, which may limit generalizability. Serial measures of BMD and weight were not used. Some measures, such as physical activity and smoking, were unavailable.
Conclusion: Low BMI and high body fat percentage are independently associated with increased mortality. These findings may help explain the counterintuitive relationship between BMI and mortality.
Primary Funding Source: None.