So our last Random Friday Roundup discussed (really briefly) a recent study on weight and mortality. You remember--it's the one that looked at what people tend to die from, depending on how heavy they are. Want some more info on the study, like what might up and kill you one day? Check out the JAMA abstract, the AP summary, or one of a couple of interesting NY Times articles, here and here.
But the types of diseases and their prevalence are not what this post is about.
Here's the thing: it wasn't the particular causes of death that got most people talking on the web, though those are pretty interesting too. The thing that surprised everyone (including Crabby) was actually announced two years ago during the first part of the study: people who were overweight had an overall lower risk of dying during the study period than those of normal weight. (People who were underweight or obese, on the other hand, had a higher risk of death than normal).
So the study that's in the news right now is just a follow-up study, adding another year of mortality data and sorting out which things each group actually died of.
Which leads to the question: If this all came out a couple years ago, why are so many of us surprised? The fact that non-obese overweight people live longer than slimmer ones must have been in the news back then. Yet Crabby has no memory of it.
Why did that interesting bit of information seem to disappear entirely from the ongoing (and constant) media discussion of health and weight?
It seems like these study findings should be welcomed--as a society, more people are moving from the normal to the overweight category, so if being overweight actually keeps you from dying younger, isn't that a good thing? Crabby is not overweight herself, so has just now discovered that statistically she's actually more likely to croak early, but she still thinks this sounds like good news for the population in general.
Is the problem that the data came from a dubious source? Uh, nope. While we're always being bombarded with news reports about tiny obscure studies saying bizarre things, this wasn't one of those. It was a humongous CDC study published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. (Which ain't Parade magazine, right)?
Yet it seems that most health experts don't especially want to acknowledge this result. In fact, there's been an immediate rush to explain it away and minimize it. As apparently happened the last time too! Which might be part of the reason the message got lost and we all went back to thinking that moderately overweight people (who are not obese) are at greater risk of death, not less. Which happens to be wrong.
So what's the deal with that?
Sure, one reason could be because "overweight" can be a stage people pass through on the way to obesity. Obesity is still a big health risk. So you don't want people to get confused and stop caring what they eat or how much they consume. And you still want to encourage everyone to exercise and eat healthy cancer-fighting heart-protecting whole foods--which, as it happens, will also likely lead to weight loss in folks who have been previously sitting in front of the tv every night eating mostly crap.
And it's true there are particular medical conditions made worse by even moderate excess weight--diabetes come to mind. People who are at high risk for one of those kinds of conditions should definitely take that into consideration.
But why do so many health experts seem so eager to cling to the "heavier body weight will kill you" idea? It's as though they'd almost be disappointed if it turned out not to be true. Do they see fat as a moral issue? Is there some inherent appeal to the notion that skinny must be healthier than chubby because it seems more "virtuous?"
As a practical matter, the study probably won't make that much difference anyway. Because many people, particularly women, aren't motivated to lose weight because of their health. They may say that's why, but it's really mostly because they want to look hot. And our culture, for the moment, insists that skinny is hot. Curvy or beefy is not.
On the other hand, some people who are somewhat "overweight" do care more about their health than their appearance. They're exercising, eating their vegetables and their lean protein, and they're not scarfing down junk food on a regular basis. Yet they can't get to "normal" weight no matter how hard they try because they're just not built that way. And their doctors continue to scowl at them like they're irresponsible children or greedy criminals.
This finding may be contradicted by another study, as often happens. Who knows. But what if it turns out to be true that going from a non-obese but chubby size to a tiny little skinny size doesn't buy you anything health-wise? What if being a bit overweight is all just about appearance?
Then Crabby may have to rethink her approach to things a bit. Eat all the healthy stuff, do all the exercise... but don't sweat a few extra calories? Or at least acknowledge that to forgo them is purely about vanity and not about health or longevity?
Hmmm. Further pondering may have to take place in the tiny Crab brain.
Anyway, Crabby might well be missing something obvious here. She's very curious what you all think.
(Also, Soap Box Girl had a great post on this study too, which you all should definitely check out.)