December 3, 2010

The Cost of Fatty Fears

Fat is bad. Fat is ugly. Fat is sloth, gluttony, and lack of control. If you are fat, you are less intelligent than others; you don't know how to take care of yourself. You are lazy and need help. The only problem is, when you do ask for help, chances are good you will be met with judgement and ridicule masked by the "science" that supports it.

Our beliefs about fat are only made worse by obesity research that claims ".....even being a bit overweight is risky."  This was the latest claim from a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Body-Mass Index and Mortality among 1.46 Million White Adults, December 2, 2010). It hit the media faster than two freight trains, (one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph)...sorry...couldn't be helped.

"You've put on 5 pounds Governor.
I give you one year to live." 
The study related the Body Mass Index (BMI, the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters) with increased death from cardiovascular disease and cancers.  Um....I'm sorry.....I thought we were starting to challenge the use of the BMI or at least use it in addition to Waist Hip Ratio (WHR, ratio of the circumference of the waist to that of the hips).  BMI studies have been done over and over again without any challenge to the methods of data collection and analysis.  Since our popular media has lost all sense of critical thought, they act as messengers (with a slant towards preaching the gospel of lean living) thereby creating more fear over fat than ever before (God bless their pointy little heads).

Placing too much ....weight (pardon the pun) on the BMI is dangerous because it doesn't account for people with a higher amount of lean muscle (muscle weighs more than fat).  Therefore, you could find that an "over-fat" person has the same BMI as an exerciser. More importantly, however, there is a ton of research pointing to the importance of physical activity to help stave off death (to a point of course) and chronic disease.  Steven Blair, an obesity researcher at the University of South Carolina has been examining fit and fat since I was in my undergrad (a long long time ago). He suggests there isn't enough information available about individual physical activity in this, and other studies, to suggest overweight may increase your chances of an early death or illness. Moreover, he challenges the usefulness of the BMI on predicting mortality.

This is my all-time favorite photo defining
(in my opinion) what health is perfectly!
  Dr. Blair's research has show that an overweight (even obese) individual, if physically active, may be healthier than a sedentary thin person. Other studies, such as a Norwegian study done in the mid 80's (following 1.8 million people for ten years - very significant) painted an entirely different picture. They found people within a BMI of 26-28 (an overweight range) had the highest life expectancy vs. those in the 18-20 range (claimed as the optimal weight) has the lowest life expectancy. Say what? Yes. Studies have shown that those in the overweight to even obese ranges of the BMI live longer. For more detailed information on this check out "The Obesity Myth" by Paul Campos...brilliant! 

Highly recommend...
So what does this have to do with our fear of fat? Everything! A study like the one announced yesterday, even if there is some merit to the findings, only propagates a belief that fat is bad, dangerous, and scary. Those that "have too much" fat are marginalized through the media, the health care profession, and on the street while those health professionals (nutritionists, health promoters, doctors, personal trainers, and the like) sit in judgement or at least use words of judgement like "take control of your eating" (like you are out of control) or "get off the couch" (like you are sloth-like) or my favorite "let me help you lose weight" (like you have the problem and they have the answers).  Although we (yes, I'm a health promoter too) have the best of intentions, the judgements against overweight people make their way into our professional language. We are socialized to judge. Personally, this is something I have challenged in my own practice and have come to recognize (and speak about to others...including the fitness industry) but it isn't going to stop unless we start focusing on health vs. fat.

Health includes fat. Health is about physical activity and balanced nutrition. Health is about wine and nachos. Health is about happiness and abundance and not drudgery and lack.  You can be healthy and enjoy a long life with fat on your body. I may not be an obesity research, but I have read the research. I have seen the damage this fear does to people. I have witnessed obese people being abused on the street, being told what to buy in the grocery store, and being poked in the stomach by strangers. I have listened to their stories and seen their tears.  It is also our North American reality and for the sake of our health, it needs to change.

It didn't take long to find many hurtful and judgemental 
depictions of "fat people" in the media.  Tell you
ever see an overweight/obese actor that isn't made fun of or
referenced by their weight? Are they valued for their
contributions to the movie or show or for the laughs they will get?

I'm not saying "stop the research". We need research to cover all sides of the argument. What we don't need is a one-sided focus interpreted by those who don't ask (or don't know how to ask) the important questions.

I hope this doesn't sound like a crazy-women's rant (my man-friend told me I was ranting during my last blog). I have a passion for the subject matter and a passion for helping everyone feel happy about who they are today and not who they could be .....10 pounds lighter.

That's all. Now go enjoy a glass of red and toast your fabulousness (I'm getting wellies....feeling the love).

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