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Study Says Weight Loss May Raise Risk of Death

"It is one of the few studies that addresses this issue," said Katherine Flegal of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who ignited a controversy in April when she published a study that concluded that her agency had overestimated the negative effects of obesity. "It suggests there may be more to this than people think."

The findings should counter blanket recommendations that weight loss is always beneficial, other researchers said.

"There is such a cultural assumption that weight loss is necessary that we ignore the evidence," said Linda Bacon of the University of California at Davis. "This is an important study that adds to the body of evidence that we need to question the concept of encouraging weight loss."

But other researchers said the study has a number of weaknesses. The researchers , for example, failed to fully account for the possibility that illness may have gone undetected.

"I don't think this study is in any way definitive -- far from it," said David Allison of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

There is overwhelming evidence that losing weight reduces the risk of a host of serious health problems, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

"If you put it all together, you can say with certainty that weight loss in obese people is warranted and likely to be beneficial, and weight loss in overweight people is probably also healthy as long as it is accomplished by medically sound ways," Allison said.

Some researchers worried that the findings might discourage people from trying to lose weight.

"There are so many people who are struggling to lose weight, and if you give them any indication that it's harmful, that's certainly going to sap motivation," said Lawrence J. Cheskin, director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore.

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