Gina Kolata Rocks Yet Again

Just when we really needed some good news — I mean, seriously people, Santa Claus is too fat?!? — Gina Kolata comes through for us once more. Bless her heart.

About two years ago, a group of federal researchers reported that overweight people have a lower death rate than people who are normal weight, underweight or obese. Now, investigating further, they found out which diseases are more likely to lead to death in each weight group.

Linking, for the first time, causes of death to specific weights, they report that overweight people have a lower death rate because they are much less likely to die from a grab bag of diseases that includes Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, infections and lung disease. And that lower risk is not counteracted by increased risks of dying from any other disease, including cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

Emphasis mine.

Now, that’s just “overweight” people, mind you. Those of us in the “obese” category aren’t quite let off the hook. We do still have a higher death rate than “overweight” or “normal” weight folks, according to this study. However,

The federal researchers, led by Katherine Flegal, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the big picture they found was surprisingly complex. The higher death rate in obese people, as might be expected, was almost entirely driven by a higher death rate from heart disease.

But, contrary to expectations, the obese did not have an increased risk of dying from cancer.

Wait, what? Wasn’t every media outlet in the known universe telling me I’m gonna die of cancer just last week?

[Obese people] were slightly more likely than people of normal weights to die of a handful of cancers that are thought to be related to excess weight — cancers of the colon, breast, esophagus, uterus, ovary, kidney and pancreas. Yet they had a lower risk of dying from other cancers, including lung cancer. In the end, the increases and decreases in cancer risks balanced out.

Oh, I see. It turns out there are different kinds of cancer. WHO KNEW? Certainly not obesity researchers, evidently.

So this is still bad news for me, with a strong family history of heart disease, and for fat people with family histories of the cancers listed above. But at least it’s fucking honest about the fact that cancer is not a single disease, and that fat does have a protective value where some cancers are concerned. What a concept.

And you know, that’s maybe the most important point about this article, and the reason why so many people have sent it to me in the last 24 hours with a resounding, “Woo hoo!” The reality is, it’s a bunch of terrific news for the “overweight,” but only mixed news for the obese (and normal and underweight). It includes an opposing viewpoint from a doctor who still thinks no one should be fat (because, even if it doesn’t kill us, it “makes it more difficult to move about”). There’s plenty of stuff not to be excited about here, if all you’re looking to read is, “Fat is just swell!”

Which is, of course, exactly what a whole lot of people believe Shapelings want to hear.

But if you’re just looking for some friggin’ intellectual honesty in the reporting about fat? Then this article is indeed cause for celebration. After a week of TEH FAT WILL MAKE YOU CATCH CANCER!!1!1!, seeing a New York Times article that actually refers to “the big picture” where weight is concerned, and notes that it’s “surprisingly complex,” is easily the most exciting news since Lane Bryant unveiled the Right Fits.

I mean, I would take issue with the characterization of that complexity as “surprising.” They’re talking about analyzing four different weight categories and dozens of causes of death — is it really a shocker that there weren’t simple answers? Did anyone really expect the results to be, “Fat kills and thinness makes you immortal”? But that’s just a quibble. (As is my objection to the headline: “Causes of death are linked to a person’s weight.” Gee, that’s sure not going to be interpreted as “Fat kills” by the casual reader.)

And, I mean, in terms of the science, I take issue as always with the “obese” category encompassing a several hundred-pound range; Kolata points out that for a 5’4″ woman, the differences between “underweight,” “normal,” “overweight,” and the low end of “obese” are each a matter of 20-30 lbs. Yet, the “obese” category covers everything from 180 lbs. to … infinity? That doesn’t seem quite right.

But here’s something that does:

Dr. Gail, though, had some advice, which, he said, is his personal opinion as a physician and researcher: “If you are in the pink and feeling well and getting a good amount of exercise and if your doctor is very happy with your lab values and other test results, then I am not sure there is any urgency to change your weight.”

A-fucking-men. And that’s the end of the article — there’s no “But ignore everything we just said, ’cause fat will still totally kill you!” sneak attack tacked onto the last paragraph. Color me refreshed.

Would someone please hire Gina Kolata to teach journalism classes? Like, all of them, everywhere?

100 thoughts on “Gina Kolata Rocks Yet Again

  1. I’m worried that a [relatively] heartening article like this will be ignored. I mean, there’s really no celebrating if that spot next issue is just another ‘Why fat is bad, and what to do about it’ article.

    Beyond that minor quibbly what-if: <3

  2. DAMMIT I just wrote a post that was almost precisely what you just wrote here. If we had more intellectually honest fat reporting getting picked up, this wouldn’t happen.

  3. Pingback: Bias, much? at BABble

  4. The funny thing is, I even thought about checking if you were working on this one, but, uh… I didn’t.

    Likewise! Actually, I did check to see if there were any drafts, but I didn’t re-check.

    Usually you’re the one who takes forever to finish shit, so I thought I was safe. :)

  5. The headline is utter shit, but that ending paragraph just made my heart (the one that’s apparently going to explode because I’m fat) sing.

    I often wonder if researchers actually ever meet fat people in the flesh, going off statements like “And, (Dr. Manson) added, excess weight makes it more difficult to move about and impairs the quality of life.”. I’ve been rocking almost three bills for a vast majority of my life and I’ve never had a problem hauling ass up/down stairs, running for the el, walking in general. I get hollered at by (thin!) friends because I walk too fast for them. I’d love it if just one group of researchers actually observed fat people “in the wild” and got a motherfucking clue.

  6. Usually you’re the one who takes forever to finish shit, so I thought I was safe.

    Heh. Good point.

    I’d love it if just one group of researchers actually observed fat people “in the wild” and got a motherfucking clue.

    WELL SAID, Jane.

  7. This is a week of confusing news reports for me. Last night I read an article all about how there’s actually no real proof that saturated fats are bad for you, followed by an article that said fat people have a lower risk for dying of cancer and heart disease, then a few paragraphs later, said that they actually do have a higher risk of dying from cancer and heart disease. My poor flu-addled brain can’t take it.

  8. Hi all,

    I usually just lurk here (mostly cause I feel all of you already say what I want to say) – though you can find me in the BMI project.

    Anyway, I just wanted to note that an article similar to this one is up on CNN.com (from the AP).

    My favorite line: ‘”This is a very puzzling disconnect,” said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “That is a conundrum.”‘

  9. Yesterday, MSNBC had an article titled “Being a little heavy may have some benefits” I was so excited to see something from then that might shed some light on reality, without their usual hysterical anti-fat bias that I almost sent you a link to it. I thought you’d find it encouraging. But then I read the article.

    Grrrr! Arrgh! They twist everything around to fit their agenda. It quotes one scientist who has something postive to say about the study and five who are negative and skeptical. The last paragraphs highlight a woman who’s lost 60 lbs, still has “a few to go,” and won’t let this study “turn her into a slacker” or use it as “an excuse to indulge.”

    Then I read Ms. Kolata’s article in the Times, and it renewed my faith that not everyone in journalism is a total douchehound. Yay for Gina Kotata, the last of the sane jounalists!

  10. My favorite line: ‘”This is a very puzzling disconnect,” said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “That is a conundrum.”‘

    Heh. The “obesity paradox” strikes again! Only if you believe fat is supposed to kill you in the first place, of course.

  11. The greatest thing is that what everyone’s so fucking PUZZLED over is the radical notion that 19th-century insurance tables might not be the best way to measure the health of modern people. OMG SO CONFUSED.

    If I rewrite my post, which I’ve now completely lost because I copied it and then copied something else, that will be my focus.

  12. Ya know… it’s articles like the ones we’re talking about here that prove that not all “scientists” are the non-biased observers they claim to be. (Note that I said NOT ALL, not that NONE of them are.)

    It’s funny, though, because when I think about my own grandmother, I can see that studies like this are right on the money. She was thin most of her life (I guess what you could call “normal”) until she had a hysterectomy in her late 30’s. Suddenly she gained a ton of weight. Then around 10 years ago or so, she went to the doctor and found out her cholesterol levels were high. So she cut down on her fat intake – not completely, but she made an effort – and she lost 30 lbs. She’s still slightly overweight, though. Now she’s 70 years old and the only health problems she has at all are her arthritis and the fact that she’s gone through 2 hip replacement surgeries in the last 3 years (one one each, and one was a re-replacement) and still has a little bit of trouble moving around without pain. That’s it. (And we have a huge family history of cancer, too!) She’s still working a full-time job, and has a half an acre of land to deal with in the summer time, which she does all by herself (Hubby and I were the only ones who ever helped her with that, and now that we’re 7,000 miles away it’s a little difficult ;) )

    So yeah… looking at her as an example of someone who is overweight but still very active and relatively healthy (considering her age), I can totally believe this kind of study.

    And you said it, Kate. To have some HONEST reporting about weight issues – even if we don’t agree with her obvious opinions in some areas – is SO refreshing!!!

  13. I think the researchers are as confused as they rest of us as they all try to come up with the best marketing of their studies – regardless of the actual facts. I believe they are trying to “sell” themselves into a billion dollar industry.

    Me? I’m NOT reading anymore data for the next few weeks and instead…. I think I’ll just read your blog instead.

    :-)

  14. Sigh… the other headline in the Health section of CNN.com is now “Tired of being ashamed, man sheds 87 pounds”.

    So we have, literally, two headlines on the main page that speak for all the health articles saying this:

    Tired of being ashamed, man sheds 87 pounds
    Study: A little extra weight not deadly

    In the shame article, we have gems like these:

    ” Welch was in total disbelief when he stepped on the scale and realized he was carrying 200 pounds on his 5-foot-10-inch frame. Despite the initial shock, he continued to gain weight.”

    “Eight months later, Welch had lost 87 pounds and reached his goal weight of 174 pounds, which is the maximum weight for someone who is 5 feet 10 inches tall, according to the national guidelines.”

    “Welch can bend over and tie his shoes without discomfort. He feels much lighter going up a flight of stairs and he can hike much faster. More importantly, he’s become more optimistic.”

    Sigh.

  15. That line about how “excess weight makes it more difficult to move about and impairs the quality of life” blew my mind because she was talking about people in the 25-30 range of BMI. I think somebody needs to send her a copy of the BMI slideshow, because she obviously has no freaking idea what 20-30 pounds of “excess” weight looks like.

    Other than that, it was a pretty good article. Those last lines were a wonderful thing to see in a mainstream publication for sure.

  16. Becky, yeah, that was in my post too. Sigh. Lost to the ages now, due to my inability to paste after cutting.

  17. The good news is, they’ve already confused a significant percentage of the population to the point where they are tuning out. Eventually the ad revenues will dwindle to the point where these stories will become nonstarters. “Oh, fucking great, another story that tells me I’m lazy and not trying hard enough to be skinny, when I’m already working two jobs and on my feet 14 hours a day caring for special needs kids and aging parents without being paid a cent for it and having to come up with a huge chunk of their medical bills out of pocket, and all I can afford to feed myself time, energy or moneywise is Taco Bell. They can fuck right off.” Ahh, the dreams.

    But at least Kolata is trying, headline censors be damned. Must drive her insane sometimes. Oh nooooes, we can’t have a headline saying “overweight” people have less risk of some disease! Next thing you know, everyone will go out and pack on 50 pounds just because we said it was okay, because everyone can put on that much weight in a week just by walking by a bakery! Sure, happens to me all the time. GAAAH.

  18. “But if you’re just looking for some friggin’ intellectual honesty”

    Exactly, and who would have thought we’d have to actually ask from scientists and health professionals? Isn’t that supposed to be their M.O.

    “…no one should be fat because, even if it doesn’t kill us, it “makes it more difficult to move about”

    Umhuh know what else makes it more difficult to move about? Clinical depression brought on by the assault to the body that is dieting. And or the belief that one is worthless scum because one is fat and try the belief that one is lazy one’s body is ugly and useless incompetent in any way.

    When are these people going to understand that there is not now, never has been and never will be any justification whatsoever for the fat hate and stigmatization they have been indulging in. NO EXCUSES EVER!

  19. Nuckingfutz, it’s definitely true that scientists are human, and as such we inherently have our own biases like anyone else. Sometimes the biases are so deeply internalized that it’s impossible to totally eliminate them when designing a study, no matter how hard you try – and this is obviously an issue that many people internalize quite young.

    But the other thing to remember is that scientists don’t typically market their studies. We do the analyses, write them up, submit them to peer-reviewed publications where other scientists evaluate the methods and techniques used, then usually that’s it. Scientists may get calls from the media, but it’s very rare (though not completely impossible) for a scientist to be out selling their study door-to-media-door. So all those twists and headlines are typically added by the media – who have no such requirements for peer-review, and as we all know are often highly biased.

    Not saying all scientists are perfect – just go look at the Discovery Institute or the global-warming deniers to see perfect examples of bought-and-paid-for scientists! But I think the media are generally the worse offenders in reporting of scientific studies.

  20. How about this comment from one of the naysayers of this study:

    “And, she added, excess weight makes it more difficult to move about and impairs the quality of life.”

    Anyone with a BMI of 25-30 have problems moving? Cause I sure don’t. Anybody have a decreased quality of life? Eh, well, certainly not because of my weight.

  21. Meowser, if you check out the comments on this at the NY Times, the only one that is cited as an “editor’s selection” suggests that the study is bunk because fails to distinguish between chain smoking, heroin using thin people, and the super-fit, really healthy ones. It ends with “It is laughable to suggest that getting fat will actually make you healthy.”

    That they consider this the most important letter they’ve received on the topic says something about where the editors are at with this article.

  22. Especially since that person apparently can’t even read:

    Researchers tried to rule out those who were thin, because they might have been already sick. They also ruled out smokers, and the results did not change.

    I suppose they didn’t specifically rule out heroin use but I kind of doubt there is a big enough proportion of heroin users in the “normal” BMI category to really make a difference. And in any case, seeing as people smoke to keep their weight down, I’m not sure why we shouldn’t count thin smokers.

  23. They actually did run the numbers with and without smoking and they came out the same. Yeah, probably they didn’t run them on skinny junkies and meth-heads, those would really skew the numbers.

    Nobody said getting fat will make you healthy. What they said is that being fat, if that’s who you are naturally, is not an automatic insta-death sentence. SuperVegan YuppieAthlete can prattle all they want about how they’re gonna live forever, they’re gonna learn how to fly high, fame, remember their name, etc. They too will die of something, and if the standard amongst their age group turns out to be living to be 98 with nary a health problem and SVYA only makes it to 87 and cacks of a stroke, then SVYA will the one who is held up as an example among peers of What Not To Do. Pass the popcorn.

  24. Sumac, I have a BMI of 53 or something like that and I don’t have a problem moving around!

    As of QoL — hmmm, happily married, good job, money to buy what I need and most of what I want, good health. Yeah, I’d say my quality of life is pretty darn good, no matter how many “researchers” try to tell me it shouldn’t be.

  25. Sorry Jane, I see you already called bullshit on this. Oh when will I learn to read through all comments before posting?

  26. Jmars–no doubt! I just used the 25-30 BMI because those are the numbers from the study the range I fall into.

  27. Anyone with a BMI of 25-30 have problems moving?

    Heck, my BMI is 35 and I’m always admonishing young students to catch up.

    Incidentally, I have a 6th grader who came in for tutoring at lunch today. He mentioned that he was having fruit and salad for his lunch because he’s fat and his mom is worried. Even though he exercises for an hour every day in gym and works out at home as well, he doesn’t seem to be getting any skinnier.

    I explained the fat facts of life to him, gave him an article about the evils of dieting, and urged him to stay strong and handsome (which he is) and not worry about being fat. I doubt very much if one teacher’s words will be enough to undo an entire society of fat-haters, though. It’s also pretty obvious that this kid is heading for a growth spurt, but hey, better undernourished than tubby, right?

  28. Sniper-

    That kills me! Poor kid needs protein and fat so his little bones can grow… but no no… must be skinny!!

    I liked the upbeat note of the article, and I don’t care if the NYT editors think it’s whack – :P at them

  29. Poor kid needs protein and fat so his little bones can grow… but no no… must be skinny!!

    Even if this little guy got down to his bones he still wouldn’t be skinny. He has the build of a tiny wrestler – broad back, broad shoulders, lots of strength and stamina – and a bit of chub in his face and belly, just like most kids before a growth spurt.

    But we wouldn’t want to recognize differing body types now, would we?

  30. Don’t know if you’ll see this but I’m so glad I found you. I’ve been struggling with bulimia for almost 2 decades and I’m having a particularly bad day with my body. I struggle every day to make peace with myself. I needed to see the love and acceptance and humor on this site today. I looked at your BMI project (how I found you) and I feel — dare I say — better. Thank you for being here.

    Faith

  31. Anyone with a BMI of 25-30 have problems moving?

    I have a BMI of 29 and I take 4-mile runs on a regular basis. I am also really strong because a lot of my big body is made up of muscle. That doctor and his preconceptions can suck it.

    (And you know, if I couldn’t run very far, I would be no different from millions of thin people everywhere and that would also be fine. Our doctor once asked my husband, who hates to run, if he was a distance runner because he is thin and has naturally low blood pressure and a slow pulse. When she saw me, on the other hand, she would try to get me to go to the weight-loss program at the mall, or put me on a new injectable diabetes medication for weight loss even though my blood sugar is fine. Hmm.)

    These idiots need to look at the BMI project, as was already said. They just cannot seem to stop thinking that they know exactly how large, mobile, and healthy every obese person is without ever clapping eyes on them.

    I am a little confused by all the ins and outs of who was excluded for what, but I remember being pretty convinced that Flegal et al. in their original study had bent over backwards to be fair about the criteria they used to include or exclude thin and fat people. My impression was that people like Walter Willett want to exclude thin smokers and thin people who are already sick from studies because that’s just not fair, whereas including previously sick fat people is totally fair because we all know a priori that they got sick from being fat.

    It’s so sad that this type of straightforward, unremarkable reporting is so rare as to be this noteworthy. Gina does an awesome job and I really wish the concept of examining scientific findings and reporting on what was found, not what you think should have been found, in a way that is understandable to the average reader and does not pass value judgments, were not so revolutionary. It makes the people who write most of the obesity-related articles look like dishonest prattling idiots. Even moreso than I already thought.

  32. I believe being pressured to lose weight when I was 13 years old and just starting to develop into being a woman was highly destructive to my mental and physical health.

    When I was a “fat” 115 lbs, they gave us a breathing test in science class to prove that bigger, taller people and especially boys had greater lung capacity. I was probably just under 5′ tall at the time, my lung capacity was the strongest in the class by a landslide! The teacher was annoyed with me for messing up his theory and called me a “freak of nature.”

    Three years later I was under 100 lbs and a chain smoker. All the poeple in my life complimented me on how great I looked, and a doctor told me he wished more young women were taking care of their health like I was (he made that assesment based on nothing but the number on the scale.) But by then I knew that I had messed up my development, my self-esteem, and my freakishly strong lungs.

  33. I just read the comments over there (which I do not necessarily recommend). God do some of those people have issues with reading comprehension.

    Although on the whole (as I found the last time I read comments on an NYT weight-related article) I am pleasantly surprised at how many folks are actually willing to consider this issue reasonably, there are still plenty of the same old idiots rattling around. Flippantly telling people not to “run out to Krispy Kreme”? Check. Panicking because this kind of reporting encourages you to “let yourself go” and is not motivating to your weight loss effort? Check. Assuming that fat people have “debilitating diseases” so their QoL is crap even if they don’t actually die? Check. Somehow using this information to postulate that fat people don’t get old enough to die of diseases (in which case I’m not sure what we do die of)? Check.

    Regarding the preoccupation with how many fatal diseases make you thin so those people don’t count (and I see no way that you could responsibly separate the people who have gotten really thin from being sick, from those who just are thin, without making subjective judgments; not to mention the overweight category was found to be correlated with less death risk than the normal weight category too, not just the underweight), I would say that there are plenty of diseases that make you fatter as they progress for one reason or another. People suffer from edema or have to take steroids for various conditions or are on diabetes medications that cause them to gain weight , etc. Of course I’m sure those people should just “realize that they have to work harder” and somehow force that weight off.

  34. “The teacher was annoyed with me for messing up his theory and called me a “freak of nature.”

    Sounds like that teacher that griped about her grading curve because I didn’t miss any questions on the test and the second highest grade was in the 60s.

  35. I sure love the criticism that evidence showing that fat isn’t unhealthy won’t motivate your weight loss effort. You guys, evidence that touching rocks isn’t unhealthy will keep you from being motivated at your rock-touching avoidance effort!

    What’s that you say? Why would you want to avoid touching rocks if it isn’t unhealthy? Well, you got me.

  36. NPR’s Talk of the Nation just discussed this issue on this afternoon’s show. Dr. Timothy Church, an obesity researcher, was the featured guest. Even he ended the show by admitting that as with hair and eye color, people have different body types, and that he agreed with the study’s findings.

    Of course, he also said weight was a reflection of behavior. Unfortunately, my furious call-in redials were met by a busy signal.

  37. Somehow using this information to postulate that fat people don’t get old enough to die of diseases (in which case I’m not sure what we do die of)?

    Lynching, what else?

    (sorry, but this shit just puts me in a purple-black mood)

  38. I sure love the criticism that evidence showing that fat isn’t unhealthy won’t motivate your weight loss effort. You guys, evidence that touching rocks isn’t unhealthy will keep you from being motivated at your rock-touching avoidance effort!

    I know. I’m sure the “you’re just giving them an excuse to eat Big Macs 24/7!” crowd also consider themselves far too enlightened to apply this kind of complaint to any other issue (I know some people really would think you should suppress, for example, an article saying that having sex isn’t unhealthy for young women because that will encourage young women to sleep around. But I would hope most NYT readers would not put themselves in that category and would be find such censorship to be offensive and unacceptable). They really need to listen to what they are saying and realize that it is crazy kookoopants.

  39. Meowser, if it were up to this guy that would probably be true. After all, culling us would lower his insurance rates (or so he would believe) and he also wouldn’t have to look at fat ladies anymore. Win-win!

    I just couldn’t believe that someone could look at findings that say “fewer overweight people die in a given time frame” and somehow interpret that to mean that somehow more of us are dying, just at a younger age. I am well aware that there is much more research to be done into this issue–the reasons for the finding, whether the correlation is causative, trying to separate out the sick thin people, etc.–but the one thing I am pretty sure I understand is that “the death rate is lower among the overweight” cannot also mean “the death rate is higher among the overweight.”

  40. the one thing I am pretty sure I understand is that “the death rate is lower among the overweight” cannot also mean “the death rate is higher among the overweight.”

    Hee! Well said.

  41. Meowser and spacedcowgirl, they have also been posts pointing out that saying that death rates are lower for overweight people is akin to saying we never die. I will admit it’s a strange quirk of language to put it that way, but how come in the eleventy-billion articles I’ve read stating that death rates are lower for the thin nobody felt compelled to point out the same thing. Oh, right, because thin people DO live forever. How silly of me.

  42. I meant to say “there have also been posts…” not “they.” Sorry, I haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep this week and I’m soooooo tired!

  43. but how come in the eleventy-billion articles I’ve read stating that death rates are lower for the thin nobody felt compelled to point out the same thing.

    No kidding. I mean, I’ve totally made fun of the phrases “mortality rate” (why yes indeed, it’s 100%) and “preventable death” and whatnot, but seriously, if that’s ALL you got? STFU.

    My favorite comment was the one who said it’s the worst article she’s ever read in the NYT because… the author says being overweight can be healthy! Why, I never!

    She didn’t even try to apply any reasoning, let alone science. Just, “Everyone knows being overweight is unhealthy, so this article is ludicrous and irresponsible!” Well, okay, then.

  44. I think this article is wonderful and I love Gina Kolata to pieces. I don’t want to piss in anyone’s Wheaties, but she includes that crap about BMI’s being a measure of body fat. IT”S FUCKING NOT A FUCKING MEASURE OF BODY FAT!!!!!!!!

    Sorry for yelling, but I really hate the fact that even some people who appear to get the concept still perpetuate the myth that BMI is a measure of something other than a height to weight ratio, which signifies absolutely nothing.

  45. I also really hate screwing up my HTML tags. :blush:

    FillyJonk, I can so relate to forgetting to paste after cutting. :)

  46. Sniper, I bet you did a world of good with your student — even if it doesn’t “balance” out the other messages he’s getting, I bet a lot of chubby kids never hear a fat-positive message at all. I know I didn’t! You did a great thing for him.

  47. I am not surprised that JoAnn Manson was surprised. At all. Twenty bucks Walter Willett was surprised, too.

  48. yes, kate217, yes. That particular line pissed me off too.

    Even if one believes it’s valid (*cough*delusional*cough) I don’t understand how you can say that BMI is a measure of body fat when that is so clearly not what it is. It is a number relating weight to height. That’s it. I would have expected better from Gina Kolata, she clearly has a good head for the science language in all this stuff, she ought to be able to undersyand the concept that BMI has no way to distinguish between, say fat and muscle. GAH! (maybe it got edited say that, maybe? *hopes, for the sake of maintaining faith in sanity in this world*)

    I was, however, very impressed with the ending, and the lack of this-is-not-permission-to-eat-donuts disclaimer. It is rather nice to have an antidote to the general FAT=DEATH ZOMG!!11! drivel that’s out there so much.

  49. But what would people do if they didn’t have the “health myth” as an excuse to wish people skinny?

    Personally, I don’t mind the headline change. Yeah, the old one was better, but it was also very long and I’m guessing that’s why it was changed. I read it in the caveman version (okay, the paper itself) today and if the longer headline fit, it would’ve been tiny. Plus, this way people who think it’s another “fat people will die omg!” article will read it. Eventually, man, eventually.

    As for the BMI thing, I have heard the argument that “muscle only changes people’s weights significantly at the super-fit extreme.” I just want to smack people who think that anything – BMI includes muscle, too; extra weight isn’t all that unhealthy; dieting is bad for you – is just an excuse for laziness.

    You know what’s really lazy? Not being willing to question one’s preconceptions.

  50. I was glad to read this. It’s sad that (some) scientists still talk about how fat negatively effects your quality of life, or getting around. I am “moderately” overweight, and I am more active than I was when I was thinner. The weight came with pregnancy and some of it stuck around no matter what I did. I am vegan and ride my bike to work and back 3 or 4 times a week. I’m still overweight. I know that a lot of women keep some weight after having a baby. How does that factor for scientists?

    Weirdos.

  51. WYW, I always wonder that myself…restrictive eating, and weight cycling, and the psychological effects of living in a society that can’t stand you as you are, and an unbalanced life focused solely on size, and the inability to access good medical care because of size, and and and…should I go on? So many ways to interpret what about Teh Fat, if anything, is dangerous.

  52. “So this is still bad news for me, with a strong family history of heart disease, and for fat people with family histories of the cancers listed above.”

    Which is why educating health professionals to overcome their anti-fat bias is so important. Because problems can be detected and treated early, and we can learn what treatments work best for fat folks.

    Didn’t we learn just a little while ago that being fat means you may be better poised to survive heart problems? So knowing that a person is at greater risk, and knowing the early signs and symptoms are really important. Also really important is having a health professional who you want to see regularly, who you aren’t afraid of going in to see.

    I really get why some people give up on seeing the doctor unless it’s a dire emergency. Even if you have a doctor or nurse you love to see, who knows what you’ll get if you need urgent or emergency care.

    It makes me want to go back to school to become a MD, or a nurse-practitioner. But that’s not going to happen tomorrow, so it’s hard to know where exactly to put my energies.

    I think many docs and nurses really do want to “do no harm” and also truly don’t want to drive away people who need their help. They think it is helpful to tell people they need to lose weight (and if they don’t, they aren’t following guidelines). They really don’t get it. Teaching students in med and nursing school is one step, and educating existing providers is also important.

    I’ve had good and not as good luck with health providers — from the truly messed-up to the truly understanding. And it shouldn’t be a crap shoot — the vast majority should see the fatness in the same way they see my height, my family history, my menstrual history — not as something inherently to be changed as much as understood and taken into account.

    Being fat does put you at increased risks of some things (depending on many other factors) and this information can be used to help prevent and detect problems so they can be promptly treated.

    Knowing you are at increased risk of a disease is knowledge you can use. It can encourage a person to be physically active if they aren’t, or to shift what they are eating, as well as point to some potential medications that might be helpful if those other changes aren’t enough.

    I would much rather hear a health professional say, “being at your size means we need to pay extra attention to….” rather than ignore it altogether. But I don’t want to hear “what are you doing about your weight?”

  53. wrt2, if you really are considering going back to school in one of those areas, I know you would be a godsend for fat patients. I so wish all doctors would view weight the way you describe.

  54. Thanks, Spacedcowgirl. Sometimes I think about it. But I don’t think I could survive med school — I’m too “well-rounded” and I need too much sleep (7 hours a night, minimum) the prerequisites alone would probably kill me.
    Maybe a doctor of public health, or a Ph.D., though.
    Or maybe I could make it my mission to educate health professionals.

  55. Wow, most of the time when the media reports a scientific study, they have one or two dissenting opinions in the article itself — not a WHOLE NEW ARTICLE just to tell you that the article being reported on is hogwash since everyone knows it is.

    Favorite bits: thin guy eating a cheese steak = obesity; Flegal saying “I didn’t tell anyone to stop eating well or exercising, you fucking morons”; the headline “being fat is still unhealthy” on a piece about how fat isn’t really all that unhealthy; the assertion that it must still be dangerous to be overweight because you might eventually become obese. A real hit parade!

  56. the assertion that it must still be dangerous to be overweight because you might eventually become obese.

    I love it. Wouldn’t this also mean that “normal” people need to worry about becoming overweight?

    And underweight people need to worry about becoming “normal,” ’cause that could lead to “overweight,” which could lead to “obesity”?

    Any body fat at all is a GATEWAY DRUG, people.

  57. Wouldn’t this also mean that “normal” people need to worry about becoming overweight?

    Of course! Hell, I see that all over the media. The rash of Managing Thanksgiving articles along those lines should break out any day now. In fact, I wish you’d do a Thanksgiving post.

    This headline switch really, really gets my goat. Here’s what I just sent.

    ———————————
    To the Editors:

    Don’t think we readers didn’t notice the overnight change of headline on Gina Kolata’s Nov. 7 article.

    Before: Overweight People Found Less Likely to Die From Some Diseases
    After: Causes of Death Are Linked to a Person’s Weight

    Way to hide the lede and cloak the point in blandness. Whatever could motivate such downplaying? It’s obvious that your editors have an issue with the piece from the one-sidedness of the comments honored as Editor’s Selections.

    Kolata is one of the few competent and UN-biased health reporters covering metabolic health. Let her do what she does best and back off. The world will not explode if an occasional story on overweight and obesity appears that’s neither hateful nor scaremongering.
    ——————————–

  58. the assertion that it must still be dangerous to be overweight because you might eventually become obese.

    It’s too early in the morning to try to figure out all the things that are wrong with that assertion. But the big one for me is, he’s telling people not to be “overweight”, because they might become “obese”. But I mean, if a person can control whether or not they move into the “overweight” category in the first place, can’t they just as easily control whether or not they move into the “obese” category? If it’s possible to determine which one you’re going to land in, shouldn’t they be telling us to aim for the healthiest one? Or does having a “normal” BMI magically protect you from weight gain? Because, uhhh, it never worked that way for me.

  59. Becky, don’t be silly, of course you can control it. You become “overweight” by eating too many donuts. You become “obese” by deliberately going out and eating even more donuts when you read an article saying it’s okay to be “overweight.”

  60. In fact, I wish you’d do a Thanksgiving post.

    I’ve been gestating a couple but I figured the first full week in November was too soon!

  61. Becky, don’t be silly, of course you can control it. You become “overweight” by eating too many donuts. You become “obese” by deliberately going out and eating even more donuts when you read an article saying it’s okay to be “overweight.”

    Ha! And you become morbidly obese when you start reading fat acceptance blogs that oh-so-irresponsibly claim you can be healthy at any size!

  62. FJ, considering that one of our local radio stations switched to all Christmas (excuse me, “holiday”) music on November 1, I don’t think that the first week in November is too early for a Thanksgiving post.

    In fact, the first week in September would probably not be considered too early for a Thanksgiving post!

  63. Lisa wrote:

    Don’t think we readers didn’t notice the overnight change of headline on Gina Kolata’s Nov. 7 article.

    Before: Overweight People Found Less Likely to Die From Some Diseases
    After: Causes of Death Are Linked to a Person’s Weight

    Oh, it’s much worse than that. Cause, apparently, some well-intentioned newswriters and editors at Reuters think we’re all gonna celebrate the news with a big box of Krispy Kremes.

    Put down that fork: Being fat is still unhealthy

    CHICAGO (Reuters) – Being overweight may not kill you, but it could lead to obesity, U.S. health experts cautioned on Wednesday in response to research suggesting that being a bit heavy does not raise the risk of death…

    Experts noted that the research only looked at death rates, not overall health. It did find that obesity was associated with a significantly higher risk of death from heart disease.
    “You should not take heart in the idea that if you are only overweight you are OK,” said Dr. Robert Kushner, a professor of medicine at Northwestern University who specializes in nutrition and diet.

    “Given time, there is a high likelihood you will be obese because people gain weight as they age in this country,” Kushner said in a telephone interview.

  64. there is a high likelihood you will be obese because people gain weight as they age in this country

    Um… does this “doctor” (most likely a PhD and not an MD) not realize that EVERYONE gains weight as they age? It’s not a cultural condition, it’s a HUMAN condition.

    Man, my clue-by-four really needs a workout.

  65. Oh, sorry! I saw someone already linked to this story. The comments here are so crazy, I can’t keep up with them all. It’s more like a messageboard than a blog.

  66. Pingback: The-F-Word.org: Conversations on food, fat and feminism » Blog Archive » The inevitable media spin

  67. But nobody eats donuts with a fork! Nobody eats fries with a fork! Nobody drinks Pepsi with a fork! I mean, “put down that fork”? C’mon, doesn’t every fatass’s diet consist entirely of finger food and beverages consumed through straws, is that not what they are always trying to tell us? I demand a little internal consistency here.

  68. Becky, don’t be silly, of course you can control it. You become “overweight” by eating too many donuts. You become “obese” by deliberately going out and eating even more donuts when you read an article saying it’s okay to be “overweight.”

    Going out and eating them? But that would involve movement, FJ. Fatasses don’t move, they lie there on the couch and have the kids fetch them donuts. A baker’s dozen minimum at a time. And none of those wimpy unfrosted cake donuts, either.

    Seriously, though, I think they actually do think that about us, that (as Joy Nash hilariously pointed out in her Dunkin Donuts rant earlier, and Rachel echoes above) we are keeping our wanton donut-appetites in control only by reading media accounts of how Fat Kills And Really You Should Have Been Dead Last Week Fatass You’re Just Lucky. Yeah, I was gonna have some Joe’s O’s today and maybe a little yogurt, but since I read a story that says fat doesn’t kill on the spot, give me donuts donuts donuts, and keep them coming until I explode! Never mind that I don’t actually want even one donut, I am your dancing monkey and will stuff myself on command.

  69. Maybe a doctor of public health, or a Ph.D., though. Or maybe I could make it my mission to educate health professionals.

    You should definitely do this. No pressure. :)

    “Put down that fork.” The usual trite snotty bullshit that passes for headlines in this arena. And the article gives no new information, much less any evidence that “being fat is still bad for you.” And amen to the “,ladies” thing, Meowser, I can hear it in my head. We wouldn’t want to “tip the scales” or “pack on the pounds” or fail to “stay trim.” I kind of think all current fat-related articles were actually written in the ’50s and put into a time capsule. Gah.

    The comments on how you become overweight and then obese are hilarious. It is mind-boggling that they actually seem to BELIEVE this. I’m going to go out and deliberately gain weight because of some stupid, inconsistent wire service article (and incidentally, the only concrete health advice that is given in there is to eat right, exercise, and not smoke, advice that you would think I would heed if I am so inclined to do everything the media tells me)?

    Speaking of “becoming obese,” I guess when you cross that line from 29.9 to 30.0 BMI you are suddenly in the land of hideously unacceptable physical appearance and degree of suitability as a wife and mother I mean, risk. Kushner is reeeallly grasping at straws for that one.

    Also, “dangerous as a society to assume it is OK to be overweight”? Based on the study, why? This is also along the lines of the “censor these findings, people will just use them as an excuse to get fat” which I would hope the speaker would disagree with on principle if they took half a second to consider the implications.

  70. But that would involve movement, FJ. Fatasses don’t move, they lie there on the couch and have the kids fetch them donuts.

    Wait a second. How do fat people get the kids? Surely you’re not suggesting that they have them personally.

  71. Wait a second. How do fat people get the kids? Surely you’re not suggesting that they have them personally.

    Oh, we’re totally baby-stealers. It goes with the whole “morally bankrupt” thing.

    Don’t ask me how we get the people to do the baby-stealing for us, though, because I don’t know. Bribe them with donuts?

  72. Don’t be ridiculous FJ. Thin people don’t eat donuts. And we can’t get fat people do do the stealing for us, becuase obviously their excess weight impedes them from moving well enough to do so.

  73. Are thin people sometimes cannibals? Perhaps we could bribe the thin baby-stealers with low-carb babies. But no, probably thin people don’t eat at all, so we can’t possibly bribe them with comestibles.

    Too bad fatties aren’t smart enough to develop mind-control technology, because that would explain everything.

  74. Wait a second. How do fat people get the kids? Surely you’re not suggesting that they have them personally.

    Like this, Becky:

    1) Be thin enough to catch husband (kinda like you catch pneumonia?).
    2) Get pregnant.
    3) Gain bucketloads of weight.
    4) Have baby.
    5) Don’t lose the weight.
    6) Keep repeating until “obese.” At which point the cycle will stop automatically.

  75. Um… okay… if that’s how it’s supposed to work, then how do you explain people like me?

    I was (OMG!! TEH FAT!!!) 200 lbs. when I conceived my FIRST child.

    Does that mean I’m some sort of paradox and the world is going to end just because I exist?

  76. 6) Keep repeating until “obese.” At which point the cycle will stop automatically.

    But, once we’ve gained the weight, won’t our husbands (of course we all have husbands!) be so disgusted that they won’t fuck us anymore? Not to mention that we’re so busy sneaking veggies into their meals that we don’t have time for sex.

  77. But, once we’ve gained the weight, won’t our husbands (of course we all have husbands!) be so disgusted that they won’t fuck us anymore?

    Nah, not until we’re obese. That’s WHY the cycle stops automatically.

    Except, wait, I’m already obese. Sorry to break it to you, Al, but you don’t want to fuck me anymore.

  78. I mean, “put down that fork”? C’mon, doesn’t every fatass’s diet consist entirely of finger food and beverages consumed through straws, is that not what they are always trying to tell us?

    I thought we all ate with our snouts in a trough, grunting and snorting.

  79. After: Causes of Death Are Linked to a Person’s Weight

    It strikes me that this headline is factually correct, in that it seems the article is saying that different diseases affect people in different weight categories. What’s interesting is that we’re used to the idea that only fat people have any weight, at all; “a person’s weight” gets parsed as “being overweight,” even though it doesn’t actually say that.

    It’s the whole privilege idea, in which only women have gender, only ethnic minorities have race, only gay people have sexuality. Only fat people have weight.

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