Things To Read

First: Unapologetically Fat spotted “Obesity Police’s Shaky Science” in The Baltimore Sun, which starts with:

Why is a thin, male smoker considered a physical role model as president but a full-figured African-American woman is considered an embarrassment as his nominee for surgeon general?

…and moves on to discuss the recent obesity research that finds that overweight people live longer than those in the “normal weight” category.   It also points out that what correlations are seen are not very large.  The authors’ example?

[T]he reported lung cancer risks for smokers are typically 10 to 20 times higher than for nonsmokers, the death risks for those who are overweight and obese are often closer to only 0.5 above those of normal weight.

Second: From The Atlantic comes Americal’s Moral Panic Over Obesity“, which features a discussion between Megan McArdle and Paul Campos.  One message I thought worth repeating:

Obesity is defined completely arbitrarily as a body mass index of 30 or higher (175 pounds for an average height woman). Now body mass follows more or less a normal distribution, whiich means if the the mean body weight is in the mid to high 20s, which it has been for many decades now, then tens of millions of people will have BMIs just below and just above the magic 30 line. So if the average weight of the population goes up by ten pounds, tens of millions of people who were just under the line will now be just over it.

Most overweight and obese people are not very fat.  Only 3-5% of the US population even has a BMI > 40.    “Super obese” people are a subset of that.

I do wonder where Campos got this statistic on weight-loss surgery, since I wasn’t able to find statistics when I was looking for them:

At five and ten year followup the average weight loss from these procedures is about 10% to 15% of body mass (it’s actually less than that since lots of people drop out of the studies) which means most of these people end up still “morbidly obese.”

On the other hand, he might’ve gotten that one the way he got this little mot:

I know for a fact (because they’ve told me) that some public health officials engage in what they think of as a noble lie about the effects of physical activity on weight, because they know people won’t become more active just to be healthier.

Is it an age thing that I’m willing to work out because I like how it feels and I want to be stronger?

17 thoughts on “Things To Read

  1. Maybe in the sense of growing wiser with age & more self-accepting, at home enough in your own skin so that weight loss is no longer the ‘brass ring’ for which you are frantically reaching. Moving because you enjoy it &/you honestly believe that it makes you feel & perhaps function better is the only good reason for doing so.

    And, just for the record, I REALLY wish that Oprah & all the other purveyors of fat hatred, prejudice, & misinformation would stop recruiting those few rare souls who weigh or have weighed between 800 & 1000 or more pounds to use to bully & terrorize us the rest of us into toeing the line. (No, I don’t watch talk shows, but occasionally have the misfortune of walking through a room while someone else is.

    Back to the actual topic here, this sounds like a fairly decent article. Thanks for sharing.

    • Maybe in the sense of growing wiser with age & more self-accepting, at home enough in your own skin so that weight loss is no longer.

      Sort of the “I’m old enough to be comfortable with who and where I am” sort of thing? ;)

    • ;) I do like the “Reporter’s File” at the NY Times site on Exercise, which states that “Physical activity alone will not lead to sustained weight loss…”

      Also:

      [T]hose who exercise tend to be very different from those who do not.

      Active people are much less likely to smoke; they’re thinner and they eat differently than their sedentary peers. They also tend to be more educated, and education is one of the strongest predictors of good health in general and a longer life. As a result, it is impossible to know with confidence whether exercise prevents heart disease or whether people who are less likely to get heart disease are also more likely to be exercising.

      I’m getting a lot of satisfaction from being stronger and feeling more capable. Pity that isn’t enough for everyone…

    • The thing is, I don’t think it’s possible to convince people that exercise is good for your health even if you don’t lose any weight until you also deconstruct the idea that weight is the primary and most reliable indicator of health. If we’re told over and over again that being fat is going to cause you to drop dead from a heart attack before you reach 40, then why would somebody believe that exercising will improve their cardiovascular health even if they remain fat?

      I think it might be a house of cards thing, and I think the real issue is money, not what people would be convinced of. If the message started getting out there that execising improves your health whether you remain fat or not, then the whole fat=unhealthy paradigm gets called into question, and that’s become the argument underlying the diet industry.

  2. I live 30 miles north of Baltimore, so my grandfather subscribes to the Baltimore Sun. Usually they have some very well-written opinion pieces despite all the flak they get from right-wing conservatives for apparently being too liberal.

    I really like this comment though:

    The case against Dr. Benjamin’s suitability as surgeon general is constructed out of an anti-obesity crusade that has been splashed across so many front pages for so long that no one asks whether it is based on evidence.

    People have had it hammered into their heads for so long that fat kills and is expensive, that they don’t realize even when studies about fat have been labled as misinformation, they don’t want to believe it.

    I think more people would exercise or increase physical activity if they weren’t constantly told they had to do it for weight loss, and that the only beneficial type of exercise can only be found at the gym.

    • Yes. But not everyone is tuned into their own body enough to notice that exercise can improve mood and reduce stress and so forth.

      And, of course, it *IS* true that someone who is not exercising at all *may* drop 10 or 15lbs if they start exercising regularly. But a lot depends on other factors — and losing 10 or 15 lbs is nothing like losing 100 or 150.

  3. I adore Paul Campos. Eventually I’ll actually be able to afford a copy of his book, which I will probably earmark to death quoting science at people. I’m afraid I do a poor job without my sources close at hand, my mind is kind of like a junk drawer. It’s all in there, it’s just hard to find what I’m looking for on demand.

  4. I don’t think your desire to work out and enjoyment thereof are an age thing, because I’m only 20 and I’ve recently discovered the same thing. I think they’re an agency thing. Fat people are largely depicted in the media as without agency– powerless in the face of food, lacking the willpower and motivation to exercise and stick to a diet, etc., etc., excuse me while I vomit. It took me quite a long time to reclaim exercise from the diet monster inside me and make it something that I did for me, because I enjoy how it makes me feel. But once you reclaim that agency it’s awesome!

    I really enjoyed reading that interview, although I do think it’s B.S. that “most people wouldn’t want to exercise just to get healthier”– or at least, it’s not that simple. It’s hard to want to exercise when you’re being shamed into it, when you feel bad starting out because you’re out of shape, when it’s something you “should” do instead of something you want to do.

    • Shame is totally NOT the way to go. It’s like how my eating habits were screwed up after a childhood of either
      a) eating what the diet said, or
      b) eating whatever the last diet forbade

      The idea that I could just eat what I wanted, AND that I might want something that diets were okay with? That was a completely radical idea!

  5. I do love the way that they always assert that people who exercise regularly are THINNER than those who do not…not necessarily. Have I, at any point in my life, perhaps weighed 10 or 15 pounds less because I have always been active than I would have were I sedentary? Perhaps, but who knows, since I have been active virtually all the time for the past 50 years or more. And I do know that I personally have known more than a few bone thin people who hate to exercise (& who often feel that, since they are thin, they do not NEED or benefit from exercise) & maybe it is no wonder that they don’t bother, since they likely pick up the message that exercise is for staying thin or getting thinner & that, if they do move around much, they will be even thinner.
    I know that I post comments which sometimes sound anti-exercise, but I guess I am trying to share my experiences & ring a cautionary bell, reminding us all that we can get too much of a good thing, that the importance & value of exercise is exaggerated, & that I would like, if possible, to help others not to engage in the compulsive levels of exercise which often have seem to possess me. I intend to stay active as long as I can & hope that moving will allow me to stay more mobile & independent as I age, but I have, with age & experience, learned my limits & have been developing more balance & more common sense. As long as we keep physical activity in balance with ourselves & listen to our bodies & respect their limits, movement can add a lot to our lives…though the jury is still out on whether or not it adds actual years to our lives.

    • You know, I was just having a conversation with a friend about this very subject… because I do exercise a LOT, but for some reason I managed to grow up without any real belief that the point of it was weight loss, or even health for that matter. I do only what I like and only so long as it feels good (for some, possibly twisted, definition of good ;-)

      I think the saddest thing that has ever happened in our society is that movement, play, hobbies, delicious foods… all have been put in this weird prism where they are judged almost solely on their ability to make us smaller. There are so many other reasons to chose to be active or eat a fruit or veg (like, because maybe it’s tasty?)… to reduce these things to “will make me thinner/won’t make me thinner” is a real loss.

      I do love the way that they always assert that people who exercise regularly are THINNER than those who do not

      I think (in this case at least) they’re actually saying that as a population, exercisers tend to be thinner, not that individuals will or won’t get thinner by exercising (in fact, jumping from one to the other is a major logical flaw in most anti-obesity arguments). Similarly, as a population exercisers tend to be more highly educated… not because exercising will change an individuals education level, but because the two are correlated. I don’t think that they’re claiming the causal relationship (assuming it even is causal) goes in any particular direction… It’s perfectly possible that thinner people just feel more comfortable (physically or emotionally) exercising and thus do it more.

      It’s like a comment I read in a book on running about the classic “women runner” body type (slim hips, small upper body, low body fat percentage). It said that a lot of people mistakenly believe that running will “give” them that body. It won’t. It’s just that women with that body type are mechanically inclined towards being fast runners and therefore end up on the cover of Runner’s World magazine.

  6. I know for a fact (because they’ve told me) that some public health officials engage in what they think of as a noble lie

    The nerve of these people, do they ever bother to calculate the cost to the people they’ve lied to?

    As for physical movement and all that, what’s rarely mentioned is how we are born with a strong instinct to move, as anyone who’s ever observed a baby would have noticed.

    From childhood we are told to sit still and not to move, probably millions of times by adults well meaning and not so.

    One of the most telling things about FA is that it asks, why should fat people have to mutilate ourselves to fit into what society arbitrarily deems the acceptable?

    It’s kind of the same with our bodies, we all from day one have to fit into tiny little spaces physically and mentally, maybe, just maybe that takes some toll on our instinctive physical drive to move.

    • Heh… Nerve indeed. Government officials often have a very special sort of ego that lets them believe that they know what’s best and that manipulating the truth to make it happen is ok, because The People wouldn’t have voted them into office if they didn’t possess magically superior judgment. If you ever doubt that, go back and watch the Iran-Contra hearings.

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