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Wednesday February 25 1:49 AM EST

A Few More Pounds Might Mean Longer Life

CHICAGO (Reuters) - People who are underweight after the age of 65 may die sooner than those who are not, according to a study.

The finding was one of several from researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health who surveyed 5,201 men and women aged 65 to 101 in four states over a five-year period. During the time of the study, 646 of the participants died.

The study found that 20 different factors affect mortality and that older people generally do not die of one thing only.

It also found men and women with high school-only educations and annual incomes under $50,000 had the highest death rates, that those who had smoked for 50 or more years had double the risk of those who smoked for 26 years or less and that moderate to vigorous physical activity helped people live longer.

The study said low weight was "strongly and independently predictive of mortality," perhaps because it is associated with illness.

In an editorial in the same issue commenting on the study, researchers at the University of California in San Diego said other factors linking higher weight to longevity might include a more adequate diet, the social support from having a partner cooking for them or to cook for, and perhaps the fact that more fat may offer padding in falls that cause hip fractures, a common cause of disability and health declines among the elderly.

"Everyone dies too early or too late," the editorial said, adding that the study should provide better insights into how to arrive at a healthy old age.