The following debunks a couple of the common myths about obesity. These myths are perpetuated by the billion dollar diet industry and used to coerce citizens into doing unhealthy things to lose weight including the Ultimate diet, Weight Loss surgery. If obesity were as unhealthy as the diet industry would have us believe, then there would be some justification in taking some risks to lose weight. Unfortunately for the American public (who buys the diet industry myths, lock, stock and barrel), there has been to date, NO scientific research proving that obesity alone is unhealthy and plenty of scientific research proving that obesity alone often does NOT interfer with lifespan or condition of health. The following is the mere tip of the iceberg, so to speak:
Myth number 1. "Obesity kills 300,000 people a year":
This figure was based on a 1993 study by Michael McGinnis and William Foege which appeared in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. What McGinnis and Foege actually calculated was that "dietary factors and activity patterns that are too sedentary" contributed to 300,000 deaths a year. (JAMA 270 - Nov 10, 1993 pp 2207-2212)
The New England Journal of medicine misrepresented the findings of this study as to state that 300,000 deaths were caused by obesity as did other media sources and in 1998, McGinnis and Foege published a letter of concern in the NEJ stating that the results of their study had misrepresented by the NEJ and other media sources. (NEJ 338, Ap 16, 1998 p. 1157) The scientists named obesity, hypertension, heart disease and cancer as some of the side effects of our 'dietary and activity' patterns but could not discern how many deaths were attributable to each single factor.
In 1999, another study by Allison, Fontaine, Manson and VanItallie appeared in JAMA and reported, more dramatically that "obesity caused 300,000 deaths" each year. What the paper ACTUALLY said is that 300,000 obese Americans were dying prematurely each year "from something". (i.e. did not specify WHAT the people were dying from) (JAMA 282, Oct 27, 1999, pp 1530-1538) (REF: Pool, Robert: FAT - FIGHTING THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC, NY - 2001)
Finally in 2005, the lead scientist of the CDC which had supported that 300,000 people were "dying" from obesity each year, released NEW figures based on (they stated) a reassessment of their data. The annual figure of people dying from obesity related diseases, they stated was NOT 300,000 a year but only 110, 000 a year. The CDC also found out that those in the obese BMI ranges actually LIVED LONGER than those in the so called "normal BMI" i.e. a BMI of 26-35 was apparently MORE HEALTHY than a BMI of 22-25. The scientists reasoned that this may be because the so called "normal BMI ranges" might actually be UNDERWEIGHT for most people and the dangers of being even 5 lbs underweight are well known.
So if one subtracts those in the population with a BMI of 26-35 (those who are living LONGER than people in the normal BMI ranges) the annual so called "obesity death" figure becomes around 26,500... and this is less than die from gunshot wounds. Yet a greedy diet industry ($40 billion annually and still growing) keeps these FACTS from the public so they can sell us diets, pills and surgeries to "get slim", all of which are NOT effective on the long term in 95 percent of the public.
In 1996, Glenn Gaesser, PhD, reported on his five year metastudy which reviewed twenty years of obesity research. He, himself a slim man, was surprised to find that despite the current train of thought on obesity, there were NO STUDIES in the last 20 years, which found morbidity DIRECTLY linked to obesity although some of the factors which did cause morbidity like consuming too much trans-fat in the diet or not exercising, were at times, CAUSING obesity. In other words, obesity was, sometimes, a symptom, but NOT a CAUSE.
Gaesser further noted that the MetLife studies upon which the famous weight charts were based, did not find that people who weigh more, are at higher risk. The research which studied thousands of people who collected on their term life (at 65 or before) and assumed these policies were cashed in because the person had died - an assumption which cannot always be made, found confusing results. At younger ages, the slimmer people seemed less prone to die however this was not always true in all ages. For example, the woman, 5'5" inches tall at 55 years, least likely to die, weighed 194 lbs!
Gaesser discovered that the MetLife company, expected to provide the weight charts to help us to see "how healthy we are by what we weigh" could NOT base the charts on their own studies which did NOT show that heavier people were necessarily at more risk, so they took the healthiest weight at age 21 and created a mathematical formula to derive the charts from that. (REF: Gaesser, Glenn: BIG FAT LIES - NY, 1996 - see also: Frazer, Laura: LOSING IT - NY, 1998)
There are many examples of Hollywood thin stars who have severe problems of hypertension, coronary artery disease and more which should give us a clue that obesity alone does NOT cause these problems!
Myth number 2. Morbidity risk factor can be discerned by calculating BMI:
When BMI measuring became popular, it was hailed by the diet industry which immediately saw their potential customer base increase dramatically. However it was soon criticized by most fitness experts who found that at low bodyfat levels, they had been included in the "new obesity" definitions.
Today, outside the diet industry, medical providers use BMI because it's more convenient to work with than other (more accurate) measurements like bodyfat percentage, but those I have asked about this (and pointed out the gross inaccuracy of a measurement which ignors bodytype, bone structure and musculature) tell me that they use BMI for a quick gauge in coordination with other factors like measuring blood pressure, examining blood work and more. In other words, most who USE BMI are treating obesity like a symptom in conjunction with OTHER symptoms rather than as a disease. In contrast those who sell diets are using obesity as THE DISEASE and when they hawk their wares, they intimate that all a person has to do to "get healthy" to "lose weight". According to decades of scientific study, nothing could be further from the truth!
The ultimate sad outcome of this myth coming from the diet industry that obesity is THE DISEASE is when individuals have a surgeon disable parts of their digestive tract permanently (in Weight Loss Surgery or WLS), to force them to "lose weight". The results of the "life saving surgery" (as WLS is sometimes called) can not only be life shortening but immediately life threatening.
Although there is little to no evidence that obesity can kill, the last decade has seen many studies which show that dieting is extremely unhealthy to say the least. Since the body can only obtain simple carbohydrates from bodyfat, when the body is starved of nutrients, it cannibalizes its own muscle and organ tissue to obtain the hundreds of vitamins and nutrients it requires to function. This tissue which is cannibalized can include brain tissue (a rich source of protein) and heart tissue. For example, we have stored up in the liver, about 3 years worth of iron.
Most authorities agree that even in a sensible diet like 1200-1500 calories a day (which is called "semi starvation" by some scientists), in the bodyweight which is lost, less than 1/3 is bodyfat and the other 2/3 is organ and muscle tissue. By cannibalizing itself, the body also manages to lower the metabolism, the daily caloric needs. Again this works well in times of real environmental starvation but not well at all for folks who wish to keep the bodyfat off. In Robert Pool's book (see cite above), he mentions that scientists studying obesity had noted that the metabolisms of obese people who were dieting can remain damaged for as long as ten years or more after the diet has ended.
The reason dieting works like this is because the body has a built-in 'famine relief system'. This system works well to keep us alive during short periods where food is not available but it is abusing the system to use it to maintain a fashionable skeletal appearance and there is quite a bit of evidence that this definitely takes its toll on the general health and longevity of the dieter.
This would suggest that dieting on a long term basis which society demands of us, in order to maintain unrealistic weight goals, might be far less healthy than remaining fat. In fact, some research has suggested that those who LOSE as little as 10 percent of their bodyweight might be in MORE danger of heart attack! And one only need to observe the stars who are experts at "keeping slim" to suspect that this is not a healthy lifestyle. For instance, models who have quit the business have revealed that it's not "good genes" which keep the models thin but systematic starvation. Carre Otis, a former SSI swimsuit super model stated that she not only ate an average of 500 calories a day (she would need at least 2000) to keep model thin but also, used cocaine to mask the fatigue of starvation. (She's now eating 1200 calories a day, still low and is a size 12 - a "plus size" model). Naomi Campbell, another supermodel has been hospitalized a couple of times for cocaine addiction.
The earliest starvation studies were in the 1940s when researchers (Ansel Keyes) found that participants became obsessed with food as well as depressed and non functional after a couple of months. In this study, volunteers (conscientious objectors) were starved for 36 weeks i.e. given 1700 calories a day in two meals but over-exercised in order to burn twice that much. After 36 weeks the men were obsessed with food, fantasizing and dreaming about food and had an affinity to binge eat. They were suffering depression and some experienced suicidal ideation. They were grumpy, apathetic and extremely fatigued - also cold all the time. After 36 weeks they suffered metabolic damage. This study was to find out how to rehabilitate starvation refugees of WW II. It is interesting to note that now, large segments of society are starving themselves similarly or more drastically than those in the Ancel Keyes study - does this in part explain what some are calling "the dumbing down of society"? For example, most gastric bypass patients are on anti depressants. The average maintenance calorie suggestion for Weight Watchers to maintain a "normal weight" is 1000-1200 calories a day or less.
Additionally the Hirsh/Leibel studies spanning over the last 30 years (same study repeated several times with the same results) suggest that fat people trying to maintain a "normal weight" (eating enough calories to maintain that normal weight) suffer similar symptoms to normal weight people who are in starvation.
So why do we still advocate denying ourselves food in order to be thin which is equated with "healthy". This trend definitely feeds the ever growing diet industry which is happy to stand by and take our money to help us to become more fashionable and less healthy through starvation.
The following books have information on Obesity research
ON the web:
More information about the long term studies of 20,000 men (showing that fat and fit men live much longer than thin and unfit men) can be found at (The Cooper Institute):
The 30 year long Cooper Institute Studies of 29,500 people suggested that fitness level and amount of exercise determined the morbidity risk rate regardless of what people weighed i.e. fat couch potatos and THIN couch potatoes seemed at equal risk whereas fat exercisers seemed at no more risk than thin exercisers and at MUCH LESS RISK than thin couch potatoes. Stephen Blair, the lead scientist on this study who himself, has a BMI of 40 and runs 30 miles a week at the age of 65, was on the expert committee who helped formulate the Surgeon General's paper on exercise 1996. This paper stated among other things that NOT EXERCISING was as risky as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and suggested that to remain healthy (regardless of weight), people needed to include 30 minutes moderate to intense aerobic activity on most days. (REF: Surgeon General's paper on Obesity, 1996. Also see Frazer, Laura: LOSING IT, NY 1997, or Colles, Lisa: FAT - EXPLODING THE MYTHS, London, 1998)
Watch a video about the Keyes starvation study:
Help in beginning a healthy lifestyle:
It should be noted that the first results of the Cooper Institute studies were that obese men died earlier than thin men which is what the scientists expected to find out of the studies but when he made an adjustment for fitness level and exercise, that is when he discovered that very interesting thing that FAT FIT men had no more risk of morbidity than THIN FIT men and that FAT and THIN, who were sedentary were the ones who were sick. While it is true that many obese people are also sedentary, it is not true of ALL obese people. If you search the books above, they have the cites for the scientific evidence which is rather extensive, that there is no direction connection between obesity and morbidity.
Article by Sue Widemark
Information on Weight Loss surgery