Okay so you go visit your doctor and he tells you that you are a bit on the tubby side and informs you that you have to go on a diet. Have you ever asked yourself on what basis he’s made that judgement? 9 times out of 10, it’s because he’s calculated your BMI (your body mass index) which when over a certain range is indicative that you are overweight or obese.
What if that premise is wrong? Based on how you scientifically measure BMI, people who are ‘overweight’ include Brad Pitt and Michael Jordan and George Clooney is ‘obese’. It begs the question how accurate is this measurement of obesity and if we are not in fact putting millions of people on unnecessary diets based on this ‘measurement’.
Surely though it’s better to be thin? All the doctors and health officials are telling us adnauseum of the dangers of being overweight, that being ‘fat’ brings with it dangers of heart disease and a shorter life as a general rule. True? Well, what do the facts reveal? The 1999 JAMA study (which is THE most cited evidence for the ‘fact’ that being overweight increases your chances of dying early for years) shows that thin people (with a BMI of 20 or less) have the same risk of dying a premature death as those with BMIs of 30 (obese) and surprise, surprise, the category that came out as the least likely to die from premature death falls under the ‘overweight’ range (BMI 25). The study actually concluded that there was little increase in risk of premature death for a majority of the people in the study.
Right you say, what about those claims about studies saying that obese individuals have higher than normal cancer rates? The study most cited to back this claim was the April 2003 study in The New England Journal of Medicine. Now if you actually go to look at the study results, what it really showed was that for individuals in the ‘ideal weight’ range they had a mortality rate of 4.5 per 1000. And for those individuals with a BMI of 25-30 (overweight individuals), the rate was 4.4 per 1000 – LOWER than that of supposedly ‘healthier’ weight individuals!
Is it true then that if a fat person becomes thin that this individual would somehow take on the characteristics of the thinner individual? Can you really say that? We know that all the diet proponents and pharmaceutical companies make this claim. What does history tell us?
In the US, more and more people are dieting so we would assume that if those diets and exercise regimens worked that we would see a gradual decrease in the average weight of Americans right? Truth is, the average American actually weighs 15lbs more than they did 20 years ago. Do the studies show that losing large amounts of weight would increase your chances of living longer? Strangely enough, at least 24 studies have found the opposite to be true ie losing vast amounts of weight actually increases your chance of premature death!
Where does that leave us? Do we just stay ‘fat’ and live with it? Over the past 20 years, scientists have gathered evidence that it’s not so much how much you weigh but the level of your active fitness that determines your longevity. So even if you are ‘fat’ by BMI standards, as long as you maintain a certain level of moderate activity/exercise, you would reduce your chance of premature death. So the focus should shift from ‘weight’ to ‘activity.