Obesity Denial Can’t Fool Death

By Michael Fumento

Bridge News, October 11, 1999
Copyright 1999 Bridge News

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Oh, those sadistic scientists! Can’t they leave us in peace? Why do they keep reporting huge studies in major medical journals proving that excess weight equals excess sickness and premature death? Why do they keep reminding us that obesity causes 300,000 premature American deaths a year?

Look, we don’t want to hear it.

Over half of us are officially obese and that figure grows bigger by the year — in more ways than one. We want to hear sweet Sirens who insist obesity is harmless, that the "weigh more, live less"connection is mere coincidence, or that "not all the science is in". (And never WILL be, heh, heh!)

Also, tell us that only people fatter than we are at risk. Weigh less than Baby Dumbo? Don’t sweat it!

But those rotten researchers keep at it, now with the largest obesity study ever in the October 7 New England Journal of Medicine. Conducted by the American Cancer Society (ACS) and involving over a million men and women, it found that the women in the fattest category were 2.5 times likelier to die during the 14-year study period, while men in the fattest category were twice as likely to die.

It also struck yet another blow against the myth that you need to be big enough to inhale peanuts with your trunk before it’s time to worry. ANY excess weight correlated to a similar rate of premature death.

It also confirmed previous studies showing that the feds’ claim that 55% of us are obese is optimistic. The government considers you unhealthily fat if your body-mass index (BMI) exceeds 25. (BMI is your weight in pounds multiplied by 705, divided by your height in inches, then divided again by your height in inches.) Calculate your BMI to see if you are obese. What the scores mean:

  • 24 or under: Minimal health risk
  • 25-29: Low to moderate risk
  • 30 or over: High risk

But the ACS study found the ideal BMI was 22.0 to 23.4 for women and 23.5 to 24.9 for men.

Naturally, before the ink dried on the report, people scrambled to poke holes in it. Some criticism may be fair, since there’s no such thing as the perfect study.

But this is merely the biggest and latest in a long line that all come to the same conclusion. These include the Framingham Heart Study, the Nurses’ Health Study, and one of Harvard male alumni. All had hundreds of thousands of participants; some have lasted decades.

Indeed, more than a century ago insurance actuaries had already noted the relationship between being overweight and greater rates of sickness and premature death.

As to why we’re becoming a nation of dirigibles, it’s amazing how often people speculate rather than looking at data or simply looking around.

Studies that measure how much we consume and exercise — as opposed to those that simply ASK US — repeatedly show the intuitive answer is the scientific one: We’re eating more and burning off less.

Do we need government consumption data (though it’s available) to realize it causes problems when soda bottles from machines a few decades ago contained five ounces, while now you can readily buy 64-ounce sodas complete with plastic lid to keep you from falling in and drowning?

Or consider how we’ve gone from 3/16th lb. hamburgers to Double Quarter Pounders and that some muffins now sold are almost as big as your head.

A little more exercise and bit less food a day keeps the doctor away.

Meanwhile exercise has become a four-letter word.

"It seems the average American is more concerned with keeping their pets thin than themselves," one of the nation’s top obesity researchers, G. Ken Goodrick of the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, told me. "Everybody knows the dog needs to go for a walk; if only they applied that to themselves."

But what’s really killing us is self-denial. How many people would quit smoking if they convinced themselves that three packs a day was utterly harmless or that quitting was impossible?

Yet the more solid the obesity data get, the deeper we crawl into the denial den.

Among the claims:

* "I must have an obesity gene." Several such human genes have been found, but nobody has shown that they make more than a slight day-to-day difference. For example, one such slowed a person’s metabolism on average by 36 calories per day. That equals a piece of hard candy or a walk around the block. That Americans as a whole are grossly fatter than a few decades ago and than Europeans now shows how little relevance fat genes have.

* "I’m fat but fit." True, a fat person who exercises will be fitter than one who doesn’t. But fat people are far less likely to exercise than thinner ones. Further, studies have shown that people who lost weight but didn’t exercise were healthier than matched controls who exercised but didn’t lose weight.

* "It’s almost impossible to lose weight and keep it off; in fact, a government study showed 95% of dieters couldn’t." First, this has no bearing on persons who are still getting fatter. Further, that famed 95% comes from a survey of studies of dieters who had already repeatedly failed in organized programs. Many obesity researchers believe your best bet is to keep out of programs, avoid best-selling diet books, and make your own plan.

Every single person who’s lost weight and kept it off, including myself who dropped to a 23 BMI and have held it three years, is living proof that lasting weight loss, while rarely easy, is quite achievable.

There’s no law against denial, but remember this: The excuses you’re selling, the Grim Reaper isn’t buying.

Read Michael Fumento’s additional work on obesity.