Yesterday we discussed that very rare and generally Kolata-specific phenomenon, a sane piece of writing about fat. Gina Kolata wrote an article on the most recent Flegal study that highlighted its general unremarkableness. She didn’t resort to admonishing us not to take the study as an “excuse” to “let ourselves go,” but neither did she make it sound like the results implied that fat would cure all ills. One was left with the feeling that, shocker of shockers, health and sickness and death are complicated issues with more factors than mere girth. Kate gave Kolata well-deserved props for her sobriety, and you all agreed.
But we would never get our lulz in if everybody were so rational. Luckily, lots of the doctors quoted regarding the Flegal study — and some of the reporters — were so blindsided by the news that fat isn’t an instant death sentence that you could just hear the cognitive dissonance grinding in their brains. What’s that awful noise? Why, it’s the mental wheels of an obesity researcher, trying to churn up an explanation for why you don’t get a side of immortality with your 18 BMI.
I present you with a hit parade of my favorites.
“Health extends far beyond mortality rates,” said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Dr. Manson added that other studies, including ones at Harvard, found that being obese or overweight increased a person’s risk for any of a number of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and several forms of cancer. And, she added, excess weight makes it more difficult to move about and impairs the quality of life.
Five minutes ago, of course, fat was bad because it would totally kill you. Now that it might not totally kill you, though, health is about WAY more than just mortality rates, you short-sighted peons! (It’s about, uh, your increased risk of diseases that might kill you?)
And that bit of sour grapes can’t even hold a candle to the real highlight of this excerpt: “excess weight makes it more difficult to move about.” Remember, the Flegal study found the most health benefits from being “overweight” (BMI 25-30), so Manson is talking about excess weight like Shauna’s excess weight and Chiara’s excess weight, not just, say, my excess weight, which clearly renders me practically immobile. If only Shauna, Chiara, and I could spend our time weighing and measuring lettuce leaves instead of lugging our enormous bulks into our early graves. Our quality of life would be so much improved!
Then there’s Reuters, which put out an article with the title “Being Fat is Still Unhealthy” to report on this study showing that fat isn’t nearly as unhealthy as previously thought. Brilliant Shapeling spacedcowgirl mentioned in our comments that “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,'” but Reuters apparently isn’t so sure. Awesomely, the Reuters article is illustrated with a thin guy eating what I think is a cheesesteak. Because of course, eating a cheesesteak and being obese are practically synonymous.
So, how does Reuters support the notion that being overweight is unhealthy while reporting on a study that says being overweight is healthy? Well, because if you’re overweight you might eventually become obese:
“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.
(That’s “in this country,” folks. Gaining weight as you age? Apparently a purely American phenomenon.)
As Kate said, evidently being fat is a gateway drug. It’s a slippery slope, folks — even being underweight isn’t safe, since it could lead to being normal weight, which could lead to being overweight, which could lead to being FAT! It’s also nice how perfectly this matches up with the definitions of “overweight” and “obese” used by anyone who isn’t a doctor and hasn’t seen the BMI Project, to wit: overweight means “chubby but still looks okay to me” and obese means “someone I think is real fat.”
In all seriousness, though, I love that in a response to this study, which troubles the idea that a measure based on 19th-century insurance tables is necessarily the best way to gauge the health of modern people, acknowledging that people naturally change weight over time doesn’t lead to the epiphany that hey, the BMI doesn’t account for age! Oh no. Rather, it means that you could go tumbling into the deadly hinterlands of obesity at ANY MOMENT, simply from the PASSAGE OF TIME. Retreat! Retreat!
Not to mention the fact that this quote boils down to “you should not take heart in the idea that… you are okay.” God forbid we should feel all right about ourselves. Especially when the alternative is so damn effective.
Kolata’s article ends with a lovely quote about the possibility of health at every size. Here’s the quote that wraps up the Reuters piece:
Dr. Louis Aronne, an obesity expert at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, said it would be “dangerous as a society to assume it is OK to be overweight.”
And that’s the last word, folks: Don’t interpret this new evidence that being considered “overweight” has some health benefits to mean that it is okay to be overweight. After all, we all know that it is not okay to be overweight, so if somebody says it might be better, it’s actually worse, because if you think being overweight is okay then you might go ahead and be overweight and being overweight is bad. Despite any evidence that it’s not bad. So don’t do it. Because it’s bad. Even though it isn’t.
Just listen to those wheels spin.