A link from Anne's blog led me to a story about a recent study by Katherine M. Flegal, Ph.D., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hyattsville, Md., and colleagues on the relative mortality risk for people of various BMI levels. The researchers found that people who were slightly overweight (BMI between 25 and 30) are at a lower risk of dying from some causes than those with weights in the "ideal" range (between 18.5 and 25).
Another story summarized the findings as follows:
This study is important because it suggests that maybe the current hysteria over America's weight problem is a bit overblown. It also suggests that maybe the ideal weight range for health is a little more forgiving than fashion's. Actually, a fashionable weight seems to be unhealthy, though no one talks much about that risk.
- Underweight was linked with increased mortality from non-cancer, non-CVD [cardiovascular disease] causes (23,455 excess deaths).
- Underweight was NOT linked with cancer or CVD mortality.
- Overweight was linked with significantly decreased mortality from non-cancer, non-CVD causes.
- Overweight was NOT linked with cancer or CVD mortality.
- Obesity was linked with significantly increased mortality from CVD (112,159 excess deaths).
- Obesity was NOT linked with cancer, non-cancer, or non-CVD mortality.
- Overweight and obesity combined were linked with increased mortality from diabetes and kidney disease (61,248 excess deaths).
- Overweight and obesity combined were linked with decreased mortality from other non-cancer, non-CVD causes.
- Obesity was linked to increased mortality from obesity-related cancers (13,839 excess deaths) but not other cancers.
Though it's obvious that there are certain risks associated with overweight, and more the heavier you are, there are currently a lot of risky methods for weight loss (crash diets, drugs, surgeries) that might need to be reevaluated in terms of these findings.
As I'm sure you've probably noticed, this story set off a huge backlash of people who wanted to make sure to remind us that "it's not OK to be fat." But someone with a BMI in the moderately overweight range probably wouldn't look fat to most of us, and now it seems that they might not be at much health risk, either.
Statistics can tell us only so much. Personally, I care more about my quality of life when I'm alive than how long I live -- I'd rather have a full and happy life that ended at 60 than a long, protracted illness that I survived into my 90s. Many of us have specific risk factors (joint problems, diabetes) that suggest that we should keep our weights lower than they currently are. But this study, and the extreme reactions to it, may suggest that the concern about our health was never really about health at all -- it was about pushing people around, or personal dislike of overweight people, or, in the case of some of the obesity researchers out there, getting grant money or a quick FDA approval for a risky diet drug with questionable results. All this societal pressure makes it even harder to make weight loss work. This was also the premise of the book Rethinking Thin, which prompted similar knee-jerk, "Fat isn't healthy" reactions from the mainstream media.
I think that this study is one more piece of evidence, as a recent post on Angry Fat Girlz suggests, making moderate and gradual changes toward the life we really want for ourselves (which might not the one our mothers wanted, or the one that fashion designers think we should have) is really the way to go, as most of us have suspected all along.