Being overweight or obese really can shorten lives – and cause people to spend their later years in misery, reveals a new study.

Many studies have echoed a counter-intuitive finding: that obese people live longer than those with lower weights.

Most of this research looked at how long these people lived after being diagnosed with a disease, and found that higher Body Mass Index (BMIs) were linked to longer survival times.

But new research from Northwestern University has debunked that myth by analyzing – for the first time – subjects’ entire lives and finding that obese and overweight people do not live longer, they just tend to get diagnosed earlier.

Obesity’s effects are worse for women, with those obese in their 40s and 50s almost twice as likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke, heart failure or death from cardiovascular disease.

The risk for men in the same boat increases by two thirds, according to the 50 year analysis of almost 200,000 people.

Being overweight increased the odds of any of these four outcomes for women and men by a third and a fifth respectively.

The study, published in JAMA Cardiology, said the lives of obese people are shorter on average – with a greater proportion of them spent with cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Sadiya Khan, an assistant professor of medicine, said the findings debunk the “obesity paradox” – which states carrying too many pounds helps patients with potentially fatal illnesses live longer.

She said: “A healthy weight promotes healthy longevity or longer healthspan in addition to lifespan, so that greater years lived are also healthier years lived. It’s about having a much better quality of life.”

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