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Topic 9 - Is It Unhealthy To Be Fat?

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Old 07-03-2007, 07:30 AM   #1
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Default Topic 9 - Is It Unhealthy To Be Fat?

The last chapter of Rethinking Thin is titled The Fat Wars and its premise seems to be that being fat isnít necessarily unhealthy and may, in fact, be a positive thing:

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Ö As populations grew healthier Ö they grew taller and fatter Ö [There are] higher death rates at the lowest and highest body mass indexes. And the best weights for health consistently included ones in the overweight range. Could that mean that the obesity epidemic is actually a good thing, with height increasing because of better nutrition and freedom from disease, with weights increasing too, to allow the average person the best possible health? (p 209)
The book hypothesizes that all the public health warnings about being overweight are driven by money -- the vast amounts of money in both the diet industries and the research supporting the notion that being fat is unhealthy. What if, the book asks, being overweight is at worse benign and at best, a positive, protective health benefit? What if weíve all been duped into thinking that we need to lose weight for optimal health?

Quote:
Higher weights could be the unintended consequence of the nationís general better health, or maybe even a contributor to it. Maybe whatever is pushing up the average weight of the nation might be for the best. (p 222)
Here the science gets a bit shaky and one starts to suspect some really selective reporting on research and studies. I have to say upfront that this is where the book lost me. I followed along the discussion of studies about genetics, biochemistry, and weight with fascination, even if I didnít agree with the authorís conclusions that she drew from the research. But it seemed as if this last chapter swerves from science to pure speculation. The author is asking us to discount or ignore all the warnings about obesity being linked to cancer and other diseases and being a cause of premature death without, in my opinion, much persuasive evidence at all.

The chapter makes sense only if you buy into the conclusions that the author draws from the science discussed in all the previous chapters. If weight is indeed genetically determined and if losing weight is hopeless, well then, perhaps accepting our current weights as being correct and healthful is the best way to cope. But if one doesnít accept that we canít change our weight and that we do actually have a lot of control over what we weigh, then the argument loses a lot of power.

In a way, the book ends up making the case for fat acceptance and the ďfit but fatĒ theory. Maybe we here at 3FC are the wrong audience for her message because we believe that we are able to control our weight and better our health? Personally, I found this chapter to be unpersuasive and even bizarre, but what do you think?
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Old 07-03-2007, 08:42 AM   #2
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My thoughts on that would be, as in many other things: moderation.

I believe you can be 'fat but fit', but to a certain extent only. The word 'fat' contains a very wide range of possibilities, from the person who is 'only 20 lbs overweight' to the person who is 'morbidly obese and on an oxygen tank because her lungs are failing under her weight'. The first one could be pretty fit all the same (well you can be overweight and able to run marathons, that's not a problem in itself), and another part of the whole range could be as well; on the other hand, past a certain weight (or percentage of extra weight, depending on the size), it must become difficult to ignore that at least one's endurance is getting lower (mine sure was, and this at only 165 lbs...), that one can't climb stairs as easily as before... That sort of things. So what, it doesn't appear on a blood test. It's still annoying and 'not fit' all the same.

IMHO, we cannot totally discard the potential related health problems. There are thin people with health problems, and obese people who don't suffer from HBP, diabetes, etc, but I wouldn't go and use that as a 'proof' that being fat = no health problems can be linked to that. To me, it just means that not everyone necessarily gets all the shaft from genetic combinations; sometimes, you're unlucky for some things, and lucky for others.

I'm afraid my opinion might seem in ill-taste, but all in all, it looked like some kind of half-assed justification to me. Something along the lines of "we don't have any choice at all, and all that is left to us is to clutch at this as to some kind of poor consolation because it's all we'll ever have". Maybe I'm wrong; yet it's the way I've perceived it all the same.

This said, I don't believe either that we NEED to become rail-thin to be in good health.
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Old 07-03-2007, 10:56 AM   #3
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I`ll agree with you about selective reporting and pure speculation.

We are one of the first obese populations. I don`t think enough time has elapsed for a good study. In any case, I think this would be about being "slightly overweight and fit" instead of "fat or obese and fit", which makes more sense. It would then go against those other "studies" that tell you that your chances for a heart attack cuadruple if you`re 20 pounds overweight.

If anything, this chapter was maybe intended for those people who are considered 20 pounds overweight. There is nothing healthy about being 80 pounds overweight.
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Old 07-03-2007, 11:24 AM   #4
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I find these conclusions totally bizarre and totally against anything I have ever heard or personally experienced. It's like throughout this book, there is an overwhelming fatalistic attitude toward permanent weight loss. Therefore it sumises to say that "fat is healthy" and we shouldn't try to change it. I for one, hope people who are struggling with their wt. don't read this and think "it's no use".

I do believe there is a spectrum where being a little overweight for some people is not totally dangerous (especially is the person is able to still be physically active). I , myself , didn't have overwhelming health problems when I was 20 lbs. overweight. But, as most of you know, I ended up with high blood pressure,congestive heart failure, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, continuous shortness of breath, fatty liver disease (besides my other genetic liver diseases), tachycardia. I was literally a heart attack or stroke waiting to happen. Now , How could that be healthy?

I am more likely to believe that those who are severely overweight or obese that have no health problems are a medical miracle or just plain lucky and that it will eventually catch up with them (like it did with me). I think most every single one of us know, how much harder every single one of our organs including heart , lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas etc. have to work to support a heavier weight. Not to mention the added stress to our bones and joints.

In a way, this really makes me angry that such an irresponsible message is now out there for people to see and some (who don't know any different) to believe.
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Old 07-03-2007, 02:03 PM   #5
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I'll have to agree with the ladies who have already posted. I've read in several places recently that people who are slightly overweight have a longer life span than people who are at "healthy" weights. I don't know why, but I'm willing to believe this. I am not, however, willing to believe that being morbidly obese or obese at all is healthy. I've been there and done that, I know that I'm healthier now than I used to be, I feel it with every breath and step I take...but that's just me.
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Old 07-03-2007, 03:56 PM   #6
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I printed out Meg's post and discussed it with the gals at work. It would be impolite to type what most of us thought. Obviously the author has never nursed someone who is very over weight. Their troubles only multiply ... it matters not to me if the obesity caused the illnesses from which they suffer, they're going to die quicker!

I think the author is once again comparing apples to oranges. Perhaps it does not adversely effect our health to be slightly overweight but you cannot use that as evidence pointing to morbid obesity as healthy.

I'm going to veer off track just a little here and talk about cause of death. Many of the elderly die after breaking a hip. Did they die of a broken hip? Of course not! Suppose Mr Q dies of unresolved congestive heart failure, that's what Dr X will write on the certificate. If Dr X is feeling wordy and has lots of time he might write that the CHF was secondary to Mr Q's 387 lbs!

A persnickity statistics collector could then grab that as meat for this preposterous theory!

Yes, skinny people die too. Many actually waste away as they near death. Does this fact support shorter life spans for the underweight? I suppose it could if I was building my own ridiculous collection of nonsense.

I'd better stop rambling now ... grrrr ....
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Old 07-03-2007, 04:16 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Meg
Here the science gets a bit shaky and one starts to suspect some really selective reporting on research and studies. I have to say upfront that this is where the book lost me. I followed along the discussion of studies about genetics, biochemistry, and weight with fascination, even if I didnít agree with the authorís conclusions that she drew from the research. But it seemed as if this last chapter swerves from science to pure speculation. The author is asking us to discount or ignore all the warnings about obesity being linked to cancer and other diseases and being a cause of premature death without, in my opinion, much persuasive evidence at all.
Meg, I had exactly the same reaction! Selective reporting is what I thought, too. And I also got lost. I did not find it persuasive. However, given that she claims overweight (but not obese) is healthy, and I am overweight, I WANTED to believe her!

Susan -- She doesn't say obesity is healthy, just "overweight". But, as I said, it wasn't necessarily really persuasive.
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Old 07-03-2007, 04:31 PM   #8
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Forgive me ... I have not re-borrowed the library copy I had and admit that this stuff made me angry! ... I was rambling.

However ... am I the only reader who will make that mistake?
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Old 07-03-2007, 04:33 PM   #9
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"Higher weights could be the unintended consequence of the nationís general better health, or maybe even a contributor to it."(p 222)

I am not sure that we can say the nation has better health than say 50 or even 100 years ago. Yes, we live longer because of findings in the medical community such as insulin, antibiotics, heart bypasses, etc. but while we are living are we healthier? From what I see we're not. Children with obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabeties were not happening 50 years ago. Nor were there nearly as many obese people.

I would wonder what her definition of 'better health' is.
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Old 07-03-2007, 05:08 PM   #10
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I do not agree with her conclusions.
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Old 07-03-2007, 05:12 PM   #11
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That's what I mean Denise ... we are living longer, some folks who have things we now consider pedestrian (congenital heart defects, Rh incompatibility, low birth weight, even broken hips) would have died in an earlier era. That's certainly an improvement in national health. But to combine that with weight increase stats to make a case ???? I dunno
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Old 07-04-2007, 12:51 AM   #12
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"Higher weights could be the unintended consequence of the nationís general better health, or maybe even a contributor to it."(p 222)

Not to be a downer, but frankly, I'd be one to think it's rather an unintended consequence of all the refined grains/foods and whatever junk our oh-so-great era has introduced in our diets... Except that slightly higher weights are logical if we take into account the higher heights of people, I didn't really see the cause-to-conesquence link in that one.
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Old 07-04-2007, 07:57 AM   #13
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Hi Everyone,

I'm sorry I missed so much of the discussion - just returned from a ME vacation. From my personal experience, being overweight has NOT been healthy. I believe that my high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes are direct results of my being overweight.

Lynn
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Old 07-04-2007, 08:56 AM   #14
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Lynn -- It's really tempting to use our personal experiences in these cases. I think we all do it. In fact, when I read her book, I immediately referenced my own experiences!

But Kolata's argument is based on studies of large populations. She doesn't say that all overweight people are healthy, just that, when you look as a whole, and try to control for other factors, that overweight people are healthier than "normal" weight people. Take a look at this great post by Sarah44 about the "ecological fallacy" and why we can't assume that population statistics apply to every individual.
http://www.3fatchicks.com/forum/show...cy#post1744682

So, it's very possible your health issues are because of weight, but doesn't negate Kolata's argument.

That being said, I just have trouble accepting Kolata's argument wholecloth. The research is conflicting, and she basically seems to tell us that the statistics for one argument are wrong and the other one is right, but really doesn't give us enough detail to understand why. At least, I didn't understand it. So, at this point I feel left a bit in limbo on the issue.
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Old 07-04-2007, 01:00 PM   #15
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What I thought was most interesting was the discussion over the research which was flawed, and how when they released their study, with the affected persons already counted or backed out, their research was basically ignored. And yet the other research that kept touting the serious health risks of obesity, those are the ones that the journals picked up. I thought that part was fascinating and frightening. Do you guys remember that section of it?
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