A recent study and couple of new articles assert that society’s recent focus on body weight and BMI might be somewhat misplaced. The first article, Study Suggests Lower Mortality Risk for People Deemed to Be Overweight, that appeared in the NY Times discusses a recent study that suggests there may be a lower mortality risk for overweight people than had originally thought. In some cases the study actually found that those who were overweight had a lower mortality risk than those who were too thin.
The following are a couple of key excerpts from the article:
The report on nearly three million people found that those whose B.M.I. ranked them as overweight had less risk of dying than people of normal weight. And while obese people had a greater mortality risk over all, those at the lowest obesity level (B.M.I. of 30 to 34.9) were not more likely to die than normal-weight people.
The report, although not the first to suggest this relationship between B.M.I. and mortality, is by far the largest and most carefully done, analyzing nearly 100 studies, experts said.
What was particularly striking is the study found that simply being overweight by itself, although increasing the risk factor of eventually becoming obese, was not a deterrent to living longer if no other health risk factors were present:
Experts not involved in the research said it suggested that overweight people need not panic unless they have other indicators of poor health and that depending on where fat is in the body, it might be protective or even nutritional for older or sicker people. But over all, piling on pounds and becoming more than slightly obese remains dangerous.
“We wouldn’t want people to think, ‘Well, I can take a pass and gain more weight,’ ” said Dr. George Blackburn, associate director of Harvard Medical School’s nutrition division.
The study also found that B.M.I., a ratio of height to weight, by itself, was not a perfect measure of mortality risk and that the lower “healthy” ranges should be adjusted upward:
Rather, he and others said, the report, in The Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that B.M.I., a ratio of height to weight, should not be the only indicator of healthy weight.
“Body mass index is an imperfect measure of the risk of mortality,” and factors like blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar must be considered, said Dr. Samuel Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Dr. Steven Heymsfield, executive director of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, said that for overweight people, if indicators like cholesterol “are in the abnormal range, then that weight is affecting you,” but that if indicators are normal, there’s no reason to “go on a crash diet.”
The study did show that the two highest obesity categories (B.M.I. of 35 and up) are at high risk. “Once you have higher obesity, the fat’s in the fire,” Dr. Blackburn said.
Another recent NY Times article, Our Absurd Fear of Fat piggy-backs on this study by asserting there’s been way too much of a cultural focus on simple body weight, weight loss, and “being thin” alone, when the focus should be on overall health & wellness:
To put some flesh on these statistical bones, the study found a 6 percent decrease in mortality risk among people classified as overweight and a 5 percent decrease in people classified as Grade 1 obese, the lowest level (most of the obese fall in this category). This means that average-height women — 5 feet 4 inches — who weigh between 108 and 145 pounds have a higher mortality risk than average-height women who weigh between 146 and 203 pounds. For average-height men — 5 feet 10 inches — those who weigh between 129 and 174 pounds have a higher mortality risk than those who weigh between 175 and 243 pounds.
How did we get into this absurd situation? That is a long and complex story. Over the past century, Americans have become increasingly obsessed with the supposed desirability of thinness, as thinness has become both a marker for upper-class status and a reflection of beauty ideals that bring a kind of privilege.
In addition, baselessly categorizing at least 130 million Americans — and hundreds of millions in the rest of the world — as people in need of “treatment” for their “condition” serves the economic interests of, among others, the multibillion-dollar weight-loss industry and large pharmaceutical companies, which have invested a great deal of money in winning the good will of those who will determine the regulatory fate of the next generation of diet drugs.
Be sure to go read both thought-provoking articles and chime in here.