Despite current conventional wisdom to the contrary, a new study suggests that being fat can actually be good for you.

Obese people, who are otherwise healthy, can live just as long as those who are thinner, and are less likely to die of cardiovascular causes, according to the study from Toronto’s York University,

The WHO says that overweight and obesity are the fifth leading risk for global deaths. At least 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.

The study’s lead author, Professor Jennifer Kuk at the University’s School of Kinesiology and Health Science,  says the new findings challenge the idea that all obese people need to lose weight.

Not only that, she says it’s possible that trying and failing to lose weight might be more harmful than just staying at the higher weight level, as long as obese or overweight people exercise and eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

In the study, Professor Kuk’s team examined about 6,000 obese Americans over a 16-year period and compared their mortality risk with leaner individuals.

Rather than use the common standard of the Body Mass Index (BMI),  Kuk’s research team used a measurement method recently developed by scientists at University of Alberta. Called the Edmonton Obesity Staging System (EOSS), it’s believed to be more accurate than the BMI for identifying who should attempt to lose weight.

This new five-stage EOSS not only uses traditional measurement methods such as BMI and waist-to-hip ratios, but it also classifies additional factors such as the extent and severity of other diseases like cancer, mental illness and heart disease.

The system also takes clinical measurements which reflect medical conditions often caused or aggravated by obesity, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Professor Kuk stresses that individuals should be evaluated by a physician, using the criteria provided by EOSS, to determine whether they should lose weight.

The researchers found that obese people with mild or no physical, psychological or physiological impairments, had a higher body weight while they were younger adults, were happier at the higher body weight, and didn’t attempt to lose weight much during their lives.

The researchers also found that these people were also more likely to be physically active and maintain a healthy diet.