Be fat and die has been the mantra for decades now. The scientists had figured out the direct correlation between that excess avoirdupois and death. Except it turns out it’s not that simple:
Being overweight boosts the risk of dying from diabetes and kidney disease but not cancer or heart disease, and carrying some extra pounds appears actually to protect against a host of other causes of death, federal researchers reported Tuesday.
The counterintuitive findings, based on a detailed analysis of decades of government data about more than 39,000 Americans, suggest that being overweight does carry risks, but the dangers may be less dire than experts thought.
“The take-home message is that the relationship between fat and mortality is more complicated than we tend to think,” said Katherine Flegal, a senior research scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, who led the study. “It’s not a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all situation where excess weight just increases your mortality risk for any and all causes of death.”
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was greeted with sharply mixed reactions. Some praised it for providing persuasive evidence that the dangers of fat have been overblown.
“What this tells us is the hazards have been very much exaggerated,” said Steven Blair, a professor of exercise science, epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of South Carolina. “It’s just not as big a problem as people have said.”
There are, of course, the die hards who insist that the debate was long ago over:
But others dismissed the findings as fundamentally flawed, saying an overwhelming body of evidence has documented the risks of being either overweight or obese.
“It’s just rubbish,” said Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “It’s just ludicrous to say there is no increased risk of mortality from being overweight. … From a health standpoint, it’s definitely undesirable to be overweight.”
Reading on in the article (which I recommend you do), you get to what may be the crux of the matter: the difference between being merely a few pounds over what you’d like or what societal norms are or what doctor’s charts dictate versus being morbidly obese.
In my own self, I see the difference that weight has had on me. In my pre-child days, I was naturally skinny and, since I enjoyed weight lifting, I was a model of fatless, tensile strength. I looked gorgeous (truly), but had a handful of fairly minor health problems common to skinny women — problems I couldn’t overcome because nothing I did made weight stick (not even my all ice cream diet). Post-children, I weigh 15 pounds more than I used to, which is a lot on a small frame. My skinny health problems are all gone, but I’ve added a different set of problems: musculo-skeletal pain, since my joints, tendons and ligaments simply aren’t prepared to handle that extra 15 pounds. In other words, both situations for me had benefits and burdens — and I really miss the gorgeous part.
I mention all this here, not just because it will make healthy, but hefty, people feel better, but because it is a reminder that science is a quest, not an end. We were so certain we knew it all a few years ago, but we didn’t. Scientists have belief systems just like any other people, and they tend to interpret their results through the prism of those belief systems. With few exceptions, most things are open to intelligent debate, with the intelligent part meaning assembling facts in a non-biased way, analyzing those facts, and presenting them for rigorous debate. My ongoing concern about the climate change hysteria is that the scientific community has been co-opted by the biased community, and has abandoned the basic dictates of science.