Read an interesting article in the New York times today about the startling correlation (or lack thereof) between "excess weight" and mortality:
when you read it, though, you have to be careful how you take this because, as the article says, it's only a statistical analysis. "Mortality" includes things like automobile accidents, lightning strikes, shark attacks, tsunamis, and other killer situations that can't be sanely linked with the victim's weight.
That said, it does bring into question what we've been spoon fed as "the truth" about what constitutes "normal" weight and "healthy" weight . . . and they're not necessarily the same thing. What's a realistic and healthy weight? Is it really what the AMA has been telling you? It's certainly not what the media is. The media is telling women they should all be Size 0. If you want a real eye opener, settle in in front of the TV and watch some old movies. Go back to the '40s, '50s, '60s, and look at the women. Not a one would've fit into a Size 0. One leg, maybe.
In the late 1990s, the federal government redefined overweight and obesity. Suddenly, overnight, over 29 million Americans became instantly obese or overweight -- all without gaining an ounce. Now, isn't that depressing?
Check this out:
The new standard became a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 25 or below as a "healthy" weight. But the BMI itself is problematic. It's calculated on a simple weight-versus-height formula. It doesn't take into account skeletal frame or the amount of muscle on the body. Nearly all athletes would "score" as overweight or obese by the BMI calculation.
Even if this magic, arbitrary BMI of 25 is, however, 100% correct for every single person on the planet:
"The rationale behind these definitions is based on . . . data that
shows increases in mortality with a BMI of 25 and above," said Judy
Stern, an obesity researcher at the University of California at San
Diego, and the only member of an NIH advisory panel to vote against
endorsement of the guidelines. "They have misquoted the data . . . if
they are going to do it scientifically, they should do it
scientifically. I would not change public health policy on that."
We're back to "mortality." Which makes me very much want to see the raw data for these statistics, because it's starting to sound like the totally debunked Keys data that supposedly correlated fat consumption with heart disease: Faulty, biased, made-up pseudo-science.
You also have to look at the group who's performing these studies, as well as the group that's quoting the statistics. There is a huge pharmaceutical and diet industry lobby out there who have a multi-billion-dollar incentive to (a) keep us fat (or at least believing we are), and (b) keep us desperate to get thinner. The media is on their side -- doesn't it infuriate you when you hear this gorgeous girl at the next table whining about the five pounds she has to lose so she can fit into that Size 0 just like Supermodel X? The insurance industry is on their side because if they can quote statistics to say that you're overweight or obese, your illnesses are your fault and your problem and they can legitimately reduce or deny benefits. Even your doctor may be on their side because if he can prescribe you diet pills, he may get all kinds of incentives from the pharmaceutical company that makes them. Or he can send you down the street to a buddy who does bariatric surgery, who has even more incentive to tell you how fat you are.
Let me also remind you that this became the height of the low-fat craze, when doctors and, yes, the federal government were telling us we needed to cut way back on eating animal products and cut fat intake down to less than 30 percent of calories and eat a lot more grains (an interesting side note here is that most low-fat nutritionists said that the percentage of calories from fat actually needed to be less than 10 percent of intake, but the federal government didn't publish that because they felt people couldn't stick with such restrictions!). When America just got fatter under this approach . . . well, obviously it's because we weren't sticking to our low-fat diets, right? Not because the diet itself was hogwash. Meanwhile the agricultural industry is having a blast selling lots of grain products (so we can get those 6-12 servings per day!) and high fructose corn syrup, never mind that we're fattening up just like the cows and pigs who got fed the same grains and corn!
Once again . . . the "facts" are only as reliable as the people selling them.
So . . . how fat are we? What's a "normal" weight? What's a "healthy" weight? I strongly suspect there is simply no answer for human beings as a whole, or even sub-groups of human beings. I strongly suspect it's a very, very individual and subjective thing, and there's nothing the federal government hates more than not being able to pigeonhole us all in groups. Honestly, I don't believe there's any "magic number" that exists, period, even if you factor in height, age, gender, etc., etc. For instance, if you have arthritis, particularly in your back, hips or legs, you need to weigh less than if you don't. If you're just coming off of chemotherapy, even if you qualify as an "ideal" BMI, my bet is your body is unhealthy. If you have a supermodel figure but can't walk up a flight of stairs without wheezing, is that "success"?
So it's all about the individual. Your self-image. Your state of health. How good or bad you feel on a day-to-day basis, physically and mentally. Your goals and needs and plans. The activities that make you happy. And, just as importantly, a realistic and healthy way of life you can actually live with. The important thing is that you think about and refine and reexamine all of the above. Question it. Talk about it. Maybe getting down to Number X or Size Y shouldn't be the goal. Maybe "getting better" should be the goal -- feeling healthier, sleeping better, moving better, liking life better. Maybe the goal should be a process rather than an endpoint.
Because the numbers game is rigged, folks, and not in your favor.