Friday, July 03, 2009

Does obesity even matter?

Healthy food is about much more than obesity prevention. Yet, in its place, without obsession, obesity deserves a place on the list of nutrition concerns, not for cosmetic reasons, but because it is connected to diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.

The leading theory is that increasingly abundant and inexpensive and palatable food, combined with lower physical activity, has produced rising rates of overweight and obesity. If you just look at the changes in the food system, restaurant industry, sweeteners, sedentary lifestyles, and food advertising to children, it is entirely plausible that calorie balance explains the changes in obesity. In addition, there are a hundred theories about the one thing that obesity is "all about" -- maybe it's the insulin, or the HFCS, or the carbs, or the meat, or the fat, or the chemicals, or the lack of fiber, or the glycemic index, or the volumetrics. Proponents of each of these theories will admonish us to read "the science," by which they mean "just part of the science, please." My advice is to follow each of those theories as their evidence base develops, but don't throw your weight or authority to any of them yet.


robotsoul said...

The truth is, we need to feed our food to our enemies!

extramsg said...

Seems like sage and measured advice.

I think of obesity like a runny nose. I runny nose may mean you have a virus. Or it may just mean you have allergies. Both can still be annoying for the person with them, but the former is a symptom of a more serious ailment.

I've been fat for most of my life. At one time I was absolutely obese -- over 300 lbs at 5'11" -- and it wasn't muscle.

I got down to 200 lbs, which with all the hanging skin, was actually pretty slender for me, despite me still having a BMI that would have categorized me as overweight.

Right now I'm up to about 250 lbs. Since I started a restaurant, I haven't managed my diet as well and I went through a couple of months at a time where I quickly put on weight, working long hours, eating whatever was available, not sleeping much, not exercising much.

I gain weight very easily after having been 300+ lbs. I also know how to lose it and have the will power to. And I will.

Through most of this, though, except for those months of backsliding, I have been in good shape, much better than many of my friends. I can go play basketball right now for 2 hours straight and be tired, but still outpace many people younger and skinnier than me. Whenever I've gone in for checkups, my blood pressure has been excellent and my heart rate is generally below 70 bpm. My family dies of emphesema and cancer, not heart disease.

Being fat is annoying. It's a pain to find clothes that fit well. It gets in the way. It's harder on my joints. And I'm less attractive to people I'd like to be attractive to. But for me, my obesity has rarely been a symptom of much more than something aesthetic or insubstantial.

However, I know other obese people who insist that their weight doesn't matter by pointing to anecdotal evidence like my own. Yet they've got diabetes, poor circulation, can't walk up a flight of stairs, etc, etc.

Just like a runny nose or a fever, obesity is something that can be a signal of a deeper problem and so it needs to be paid attention to. But it's not the problem itself. We should pay attention to it, but put more of our concern in things like rates of diabetes, heart disease, morbidity, etc.

(And for the record, I think a lot of Lane Bryant models are sexier than Victoria's Secret models.)

Charles R. said...

Well, it isn't the fat, because we're eating about the same amount of fat calories now as we were in 1970. Except we're eating much less saturated fat, and more polyunsaturated fat as people moved from red meat to chicken, fish, and industrial oils.

And it isn't physical activity, or lack of it. Despite study after study, no causative link has been established between physical activity or lack of it and weight gain.

We are eating more whole grains, especially wheat, and more sweeteners, along with the switch away from saturated to unsaturated fat.

So somewhere in there may be a significant part of the answer...

property said...
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MyDailyQuestion said...

I read lots of nutrition books and articles, including peer-reviewed journals, but the only thing that matters to me is what works for me. I don't care if the conventional wisdom says otherwise, I experiment until I find what's right for me. And that is working right now.

Allvira said...

Exactly!!! Todays life style makes more obsess. Every one wants to be slim of course. Input the healthy food & output the lots of calorie burn. This makes you fit & fine...
Plant growth regulators

farmhousewife said...

the people in our country are starting to resemble our government's food pyramid

Anonymous said...

If we are trying to buy a health care plan for our country's uninsured members, why don't we redirect the billions of dollars of corn subsidies to the health plan. The corn subsidies seem to be paying for the obesity epidemic sick plan. Why isn't this being talked about more?