Could the timing be any worse for the latest obesity bulletin from medical researchers? Hardly.

On Jan. 3, day two of the widespread and wholly warranted resolution by millions of Americans to shed some pounds, came news that people who are overweight are less likely to die in a given period than people of normal weight. Say what?

The headline in the Wall Street Journal: "A Few Extra Pounds Won't Kill You -- Really." Maybe not, but don't ditch that diet just yet.

We suggest you read deeper into the stories of research conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

You'll find that the not-so-fine print warns Americans that being more than a few pounds overweight still is generally unhealthy and that people shouldn't take this latest analysis of studies involving nearly 3 million people as a license to toss out their diets and gorge as usual.

We admit that this latest report on the medical mystery that researchers call the "obesity paradox" -- fatter seems to be safer than thinner, within limits and under certain circumstances -- is fascinating.

But before you give that diet the heave-ho, remember, researchers here are using imprecise measures like body mass index to reach these conclusions.

First problem: Chances are you don't know your BMI, which is calculated by dividing a person's weight by height. You can find that with a simple BMI calculator available on the Web. There's one at

What you can't determine without help from your doctor and specialized equipment is what your BMI reflects -- is it a higher amount of fat (bad) or muscle (good)?

Nor does a simple calculation tell you where fat is distributed, which is important. (Belly, bad; butt and legs, better).