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September 11, 2007

Optimistic About Obesity

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Take a peek at the interactive map showing obesity statistics in the US from 1985 to 2006. Pretty shocking when you see the deep dark changes that have manifested state by state over the last fifteen years.

There are those of us here at Dakota who have not yet attained our ideal weight, but all of us are determined to focus on hope and lightening of spirit (at the very least) around this issue. Here's the good news

New evidence indicates that the proliferation of obesity may be due to a virus. You can be absolutely certain that everyone at Big Pharma is, as we speak, busting their buns to develop an anitviral drug that will combat the culprit, adenovirus-36. Pharmaceutical companies know that there are millions (see map) who will be willing to pay through the alimentary canal for a cure that comes in a pill, and doesn't involve deprivation or self hatred.

Speaking of which, there is more interesting research, compiled and digested for you by Berkeley psychologist Seth Roberts in a book called "The Shangri la Diet". Robert's idea is to lower one's set point (and therefore, one's weight) by consuming flavorless calories as a portion of one's daily diet. This also results in greater satiety and loss of cravings. We can testify that the craving/satiety part is true, though we are still unclear about the weight loss, which is only two pounds a week and will take awhile to show in our tight jeans.

Maybe it's not so terrible to be overweight anyway. Turns out that an obesity myth has been perpetrated by none other than Harvard

A big problem with elite institutions is that, for years on end, people in such places can abuse their positions by saying things that aren't true, before anyone whose opinion counts notices.

A particularly clear example of this is provided by the Harvard School of Public Health, which for many years has been pushing a phony claim with great success. The story is simple: That it's well-established scientific fact that being "overweight"--that is, having a body mass index figure of between 25 and 30--is, in the words of Harvard professors Walter Willett and Meir Stampfer, "a major contributor to morbidity and mortality." This claim has been put forward over and over again by various members of the School of Public Health's faculty, with little or no qualification. According to this line of argument, there's simply no real scientific dispute about the "fact" that average-height women who weigh between 146 and a 174 pounds, and average-height men who weigh between 175 and 209 pounds, are putting their lives and health at risk. Furthermore, according to Willett, such people should try to reduce their weights toward the low end of the government-approved "normal" BMI range of 18.5 to 24.9 (the low end of the range is 108 and 129 pounds for women and men respectively).

It's difficult to exaggerate the extent to which the actual scientific evidence fails to support any of this. In fact, the current evidence suggests that what the Harvard crew is saying is not merely false, but closer to the precise opposite of the truth. For the most part, the so-called "overweight" BMI range doesn't even correlate with overall increased health risk. Indeed "overweight," so-called, often correlates with the lowest mortality rates. (This has led to much chin-scratching over the "paradox" of why "overweight" people often have better average life expectancy and overall health than "normal weight" people. The solution suggested by Occam's Razor--that these definitions make no sense--rarely occurs to those who puzzle over this conundrum). Furthermore, it's simply not known if high weight increases overall health risk, or is merely a marker for factors, most notably low socio-economic status, which clearly do cause ill health. As Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition and a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the University of Washington, told me, "nobody wants to talk about the 'C' word--class. Yet it's clear that social economic gradient is a profound confounding variable in all this, and one that most current studies do not adequately take into account." Moreover, as we shall see, the notion that so-called "overweight" people should try to become very thin, i.e., should try to move into the low end of the "normal" BMI range, is, given the actual epidemiological evidence, nothing less than bizarre.

In 2005, the Harvardistas were thrown into a panic when a study by Katherine Flegal and others appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This study found 86,000 excess deaths per year in the United States among so-called "normal weight" people, when compared to so-called "overweight" persons. In other words, "overweight" people had the lowest mortality risk. The Harvard people quickly organized a press conference at which they denounced the study's results, and claimed its authors had failed to take into account smoking and preexisting disease.

So take heart all ye voluptuous, we have much to celebrate.

Photo note: Life is just a succulent cherry-- no need for an entire bowl

Posted by Dakota at September 11, 2007 06:47 AM