A few days ago a new study was released which indicates that of people living with type-2 diabetes, those in the overweight category live the longest. They even live longer than those in the “healthy weight” category. Newspaper articles like these (TRIGGER WARNING FOR UBIQUITOUS HEADLESS FATTY SHOT) are quick to cite this as another example of the “obesity paradox”. In case you are unfamiliar with this term, the obesity paradox refers to the fact that despite the fact scientists arbitrarily chose to name a lower weight category “healthy weight” or “normal weight”, the pesky fact remains that those of a higher weight on average live longer. And while people in the “overweight” category are more likely to contract certain diseases than those in the “healthy weight” category (such as cardiovascular disease) they are more likely to survive these diseases for a longer time. It’s vexing. Because, not only does this mess up the whole color scheme of the pretty BMI charts, it also means that we’ve been telling people to slim down to a weight that just might not be in their best interest.
One wonders how long the medical establishment is going to cling to this description of the “obesity paradox”, when the solution is so very simple. Change your labels. Change your definition of “healthy weight”. In fact stop saying “healthy weight” altogether. Because while certain weights have some advantages over others in some arenas, they are more dangerous than others. For example recent research indicates that the fattest people are the least likely to suffer from dementia at an early age.
The medical establishment and world at large are unlikely to change these labels any time soon however. The reason? Cash. Money. Cabbage. Moolah. Being able to charge over and over again for obesity treatments that don’t work is big money. Adding the word “obesity” to your research proposal increases the chances of getting funding and increases the amount of funding you are likely to get. Heck, as Harriet Brown’s excellent article in the Atlantic states–even mentioning the word “obesity” in a medical exam might mean you are able to collect more money for that patient. That’s why we classify obesity as a disease, even when expert panels in the medical establishment recommended against it.
I wonder when we are going to publicly accept the real obesity paradox. That we have a situation that occurs naturally in a certain segment of the population, that in some cases is potentially harmful and in some cases is potentially beneficial. Yet we label it a disease and focus billions of dollars towards trying (unsuccessfully) to change it, without any evidence that changing it will in fact, make people healthier, happier or live longer. That, to me, is the quintessential definition of a paradox.
Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
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For today’s Tuesday Reviewsday, I am pleased to discuss Harriet Brown’s recently released book “Body of Truth”. Harriet Brown is already well known for her previous book, “Brave Girl Eating” about her experiences with her daughter who suffered from Anorexia. “Body of Truth” uncovers Harriet’s epiphany regarding her own weight obsessed life within a society who complemented her daughter’s svelte figure even when they knew she was recovering from anorexia.
Like many of us, Harriet’s weight obsession and body hatred started early in life and lasted through most of middle age. It wasn’t until she saw the devastating effects of anorexia that she even began to question society’s readiness to conflate thinness and health and began to question her seeming moral obligation to have thin thighs. Harriet describes her own struggle in the midst of her Jewish family and describes the dichotomy of being in a culture that loves food and values hostesses who provide abundance at the dinner table while being terrified of fat.
Throughout the book, Harriet’s journalistic roots shine through clearly. She provides a wealth of current information and facts to back up her assertion that we as a culture are a bit off the rails when it comes to body image and weight. Much of the ground covered here will be familiar to those of us who have studied this area for some time. There are the statistics about the failure of dieting. There is an in-depth discussion of the “obesity paradox”. And she covers Flegal’s research and the ensuing shameful medical backlash. She follows the money and describes the intense conflicts of interest displayed by so many who serve on boards and are paid to do research to support the “war on obesity”. However, there is much recent research covered in the book, and a significant portion of the anecdotal materials (for example on Professor Miller) are new and fresh.
Above all, I feel Harriet does a terrific job of weaving her personal narrative with a tight journalistic style that presents facts and evidence in a way that makes for a fast and enjoyable read. I really enjoyed the book and I think it may especially resonate with middle-aged readers who are just coming to HAES at this point in their lives. I strongly recommend this powerful and enjoyable book.
Now, before I close, on to a bit of business. Have you heard about our new Fit Fatties Virtual Events? Have you signed up yet? It’s super cool and you don’t want to miss it. This time around the events feature a quintathlon option as well as Fit Fatties Flair. Learn more HERE!
Also, this year I am seeking to earn a new fitness certification and so I am offering special discounts off of my regular speaking fees. To learn more, send me an email describing your speaking request to jeanette at the fat chick dot com. Learn more about my speaking HERE!