Friday, August 24, 2007

Obesity in the News, part two (or 'Can Fat Be Fit?')

In light of Kelly's earlier post about the media's obsession with obesity being more epidemic than obesity itself, I thought it was timely that this article just came out in Scientific American:

"Can Fat Be Fit?

A well-publicized study and a spate of popular books raise questions about the ill effects of being overweight. Their conclusions are probably wrong.

By Paul Raeburn

Two years ago Katherine M. Flegal, a re­search­er at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did a new statistical analysis of national survey data on obesity and came to a startling conclusion: mildly overweight adults had a lower risk of dying than those at so-called healthy weights..."[Full text here]

The article goes on to explain that the states are high in this debate...that a "major thrust of the nation’s disease prevention efforts are aimed at ending what orthodox researchers say is an epidemic of obesity." And if obesity is not the primary cause of heart disease and other serious illnesses, then efforts to trim American waistlines are entirely misplaced.

Language does matter -- I've heard it said that obesity is the last bastion of socially acceptable bigotry. I recently overheard some young women in Europe, standing outside a hotel having a cigarette break, saying that the reason they smoke is so that they don't 'get fat'. But there are worse than being 'fat' -- likely being sedentary. Or dead from lung cancer.

One the things that so many of the articles fail to mention is the importance of regular physical activity -- that the fitness that results from regular exercise confers a variety of health-related benefits in obese patients even if they lose no weight. It seems to me that regular exercise is a far more reliable indicator of health than simple body mass -- based on BMI alone, Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves, and Michael Jordan are all overweight. And George Clooney and Matt LeBlanc are obese. In fact, a quick review of literature revealed this gem of a study, by Warburton, Nicol, and Bredin: "We confirm that there is irrefutable evidence of the effectiveness of regular physical activity in the primary and secondary prevention of several chronic diseases (e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity, depression and osteoporosis) and premature death." All that, with barely a mention of BMI.

To which I say, let's do a celebratory jig.

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