A massive new meta-analysis of medical studies involving tens of thousands of subjects has shown that even "healthy" obesity is often a precursor to health problems — but then again, so is unhealthy non-obesity. So why are news outlets once again making it all about tongue-clicking fat people?
First, the research: Using data spanning from the 1950s to the present day and involving more than 61,000 subjects, Canadian scientists from the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto analyzed a whole mess of studies (that's the scientific term; "whole mess of" is Science for "8") and concluded that the following groups of people are likely heading toward health problems and early death down the line: Those who qualify as "obese," even if their metabolic stats are "healthy," and those who are metabolically unhealthy, no matter their size. They did this by tracking the health of participants in the 8 studies over time.
While this conflicts with plenty of other studies about weight and health — including another meta-analysis that was published just weeks ago and concluded the complete opposite, news outlets have been quick to trumpet this as the death knell for the "fit & fat" movement. With an oddly smug Fit Mom-aping tone, I might add.
Here's the LA Times' take on it:
So your body mass index says you're obese, but you don't have "pre-diabetes" - a mix of factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol and high glucose levels that indicates you're on the road to metabolic illness. And you're thinking you've beaten the odds, right?
Wait 10 years, a new study says. Odds are, you'll be proven wrong.
Yeah, fattie. Just you wait till you're taken down a notch from your high fat horse. Fatty McFat VonFattington.
On the train to New York for Thanksgiving, we sat next to a family with a very chubby girl. She was about 9, with lovely red hair and a pretty moon-shaped face. But I could see her belly bulging and her chunky arms as she played with her iPad, and I imagined some tough teenage years ahead.
While her mother slept, her dad headed to the cafe car and returned with a box of chocolate chip cookies and peanut M&M's. "Quiet," he said, handing the treats to the girl. "Eat them before Mom wakes up." Then he gave her a Mountain Dew to wash it all down. It was 10 am on Thanksgiving.
"Child abuse," I thought, but kept my mouth shut.
Et tu, Public Radio? :(
Here's notoriously not-sensationalist (lol) The Daily Mail,
There is no such thing as being fat and healthy, scientists warn.
They have strongly refuted suggestions that a person's physical fitness is more important than their weight.
The 'fat and fit' myth has been punctured by research involving 61,000 people and covering a period from the 1950s to the present day.
Buried in all of these news stories is another important tidbit: being thin and unhealthy is just as bad, early death-wise, as being fat and unhealthy. But that's not as fun to knowingly finger-wag over, is it? Unhealthy At Any Size just doesn't have the same PR-friendly ring to it.
This most recent analysis is far from final, nor should we expect it to be the last 180 in the Fat OK/Fat Bad whiplash cycle. Here's the Pacific Standard on the results of another meta-analysis that just made waves last month:
Participants were followed up with between seven and 16 years after the initial data was taken. Researchers determined how many had died in the interim, and compared their initial BMI and fitness levels with that of the participants who remained alive.
The key result: "Compared to normal weight-fit individuals, unfit individuals had twice the risk of mortality, regardless of BMI. Overweight and obese-fit individuals had similar mortality risks as normal weight-fit individuals."
So a sedentary lifestyle, not excess weight, seems to be the killer.
So, how can being healthy at any size be both a proven myth and a proven non-myth? I believe this is called "Schrödinger's fat."
Look: on a macro level, scientists examining how to best promote public health is a good thing, and on a micro level, striving for individual good health to the extent of your personal ability to do so is a good thing. But the triumphant "I ALWAYS FIGURED FATTIES WERE WRONG!" tone in media response to the latest research offering in an ongoing, evolving quest for truth is off-putting and unhelpful. Fat people are constantly made to feel like shit about their health by strangers who don't really care about anything but making themselves feel superior. And despite what The Biggest Loser might teach us, talking judgmentally or hatefully about people with high Body Mass Index numbers doesn't make the pounds magically melt off. It does, however, make news articles sound like childhood taunts.
Image byEverett Collection/Shutterstock.