I wrote an article and apology yesterday about a poorly-thought-out graphic I posted to IPM’s Facebook page. One of the things I mentioned was how I don’t know nearly enough about this whole health and body size thing to be dabbling around in these waters, and there was one thing in particular that concerned me. Before I get to that, I want to reiterate something:
I do not condone or support fat-shaming. I think that we should be loving and supportive of one another regardless of body size or type, as well as all the other identities one possesses, because I believe that the one of the greatest sources of health comes from loving oneself.
However, one of the comments on the errant image I posted troubled me. It was something along the lines of “some people are naturally overweight, which is healthy for them” (unfortunately, I can’t get the actual quote because I deleted the image). This statement struck me as suspicious, because everything I know about health says otherwise. The commenter also provided a link to a book, Health at Every Size, by Dr. Bacon (no joke, her actual last name), which supports the claims that being “overweight” is okay as well as a few other new-to-me concepts regarding weight and health. As I mentioned, I’m not that well-versed on this stuff, so I wanted to run this by someone who was.
In an effort to understand this better, I asked Eric Teske, an old classmate and friend from grad school who knows a lot and more about health, fitness, and nutrition, to the point of earning a master’s (sport behavior and performance) and a bachelor’s (exercise science) studying the stuff, what his thoughts were on the book. Below is Eric’s response:
The fact is, being fat is an independent risk factor for morbidity. That means, controlling for things like diet, family history, occupation, sex, age, gender, race, level of stress, cholesterol levels, whether or not you smoke, etc. Whether or not you do/have or do not do/have any of those things, you are still more likely to acquire a debilitating medical condition if you are carrying fat.
Or, as the National Institutes of Health says: “The presence of excess fat in the abdomen out of proportion to total body fat is an independent predictor of risk factors and morbidity.”
“Higher morbidity in association with overweight and obesity has been observed for hypertension, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and respiratory problems and some types of cancer (endometrial, breast, prostate, and colon).”
How much is genetic?
“Recent studies of individuals with a wide range of BMIs,
together with information obtained on their parents, siblings, and spouses, suggest that about 25 to 40 percent of the individual differences in body mass or body fat may depend on genetic factors.”
However, the fact that up to 40% (or even as high as 70% in a few studies) is genetic predisposition doesn’t mean that the health risks go away. It just means it especially sucks for those people and they have all the more reason to watch their calorie intake. (Not your fault [not equal to] not a problem).
If someone has a BMI of 30 they are 50-100% more likely to die “from all causes, and especially from cardiovascular disease” than someone with a BMI of 20-25. So basically if you are obese, you are twice as likely to die.
Now while I wholeheartedly disagree with the notion of “health at every size” I support the themes of loving yourself, gradually changing your behavior rather than crash dieting, and learning to love moving rather than starting and failing at a specific workout program.
People will always buy a book that tells them they can eat what they want and that it’s not their fault and not a problem that they are obese and out of shape — but frankly this can create more problems if people are told to not believe what scientists say and that they don’t need to lose weight, when losing weight might just save their life.
The reason I’m sharing this is because I absolutely do not want to support any type of socially or emotionally harmful behavior on this site, but I also don’t want to encourage anything that is physically harmful either. While I do not think we should target folks, ridicule them and judge them for their weight, I also think we should be careful about believing things like Dr. Bacon’s Health at Every Size, as it might also do far more damage than good to our physical bodies.
I guess the biggest lesson learned from all of this is the age-old measure twice cut once. Before you do something, or believe something, you might want to give it a second thought or investigate it further. I will be sure to do so.