Sorry, Obesity Denial Doesn’t Deny Death

By Michael Fumento

Letter to the Editor
Copyright 1999 the Chicago Tribune

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Bob Condor’s September 8 commentary, "Toning down the Obesity Police," about "the celebration of fat women’s health" did a terrible disservice.

If "big is beautiful," this 500-lb. woman must be absolutely gorgeous — hence her insistence on wearing bikinis.

The U.S. population is getting measurably fatter by the year, with over half of us now considered official obese. Despite self-serving claims by horribly overweight people and those who make a living catering to their denial, the connection between obesity and early death was first noted over a century ago by insurance actuaries. Mountains of research in recent decades have substantiated that excess fat kills.

The largest obesity study, reported last year in the New England Journal of Medicine, found "Excess body weight increases the risk of death from any cause and from cardiovascular disease in adults between 30 and 74 years of age."

And "excess" doesn’t mean an extra 200 pounds. For example, the researchers found that men averaging six feet tall whose ages were only 30 to 44 increased their chance of death by 50 percent just by being 16 pounds overweight. The same journal published a study in 1995 showing that middle-aged women of average height just 30 to 40 pounds overweight increased their risk of death by 60 percent during the 18-year measuring period.

Myriad studies have correlated obesity with breast and other cancers, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and stroke. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported a year earlier that a 44-pound excess increased the chance of the most common form of stroke in women by two and one half times.

"Fat but fit," sounds like a way out but is medically baseless. Condor’s reference was to a Dallas-based study that indeed found that fit obese men, as defined by their ability to stay on a treadmill, had a much lower death rate than unfit obese men. The rub? Few obese men in that study, or in real life, for that matter, could stay very long on the treadmill. So the results meant nothing.

Conversely, a 1995 study put one group of men on a moderate nine-month weight-loss regimen, eventually losing an average of 21 pounds; another group remained obese but engaged in regular aerobic exercise. In nearly every measured risk factor for heart disease, it found the benefits of weight loss outweighed those of exercise.

Surgeon General David Satcher, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, and top obesity researchers agree that 300,000 Americans die prematurely each year because of obesity. "Fat acceptance" means accepting increased sickness during life, followed by an early death. Is this something to celebrate?

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


Read Michael Fumento’s additional work on obesity and on cancer.