Death By Obesity: Is it All Lies?

By Jim F

Over the last 40 years the number of individuals classified as obese has continued to rise unabated. Strangely enough, life expectancy at birth has not fallen, but has actually increased.The “obesity epidemic” scaremongering of the last few years seems somewhat hollow. New research published in the American Journal of Public Health reveals even more startling facts.

Data from more than 33,000 American adults show that male life expectancy is greatest for BMIs of about 26 – overweight under the old rule, and equivalent to 24lb extra for the typical man. For women, the new research found an optimum BMI of about 23.5, about half a stone heavier than the standard.

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Photo by Christi Nielsen of About2GetSkinny

The researcher Dr Jerome Gronniger concludes

“I found that the current definitions of obesity and overweight are imprecise predictors of mortality risk.”

Our infamous and well-publicized obesity statistics are based on BMI, and the UK Telegraph reports:

It’s now widely accepted that the BMI is useless for assessing the healthy weight of individuals” said Dr David Haslam, the clinical director of Britain’s National Obesity Forum.

Not faulty, not inferior… but useless. It’s no wonder the CDC had egg on its face after faulty pronouncements of deaths from obesity. In fact, Dr Gronniger believes that only those with a BMI of over 35 face a markedly reduced life expectancy.

So what is going on?

  • Poor fitness and health are no fun – and both of these situations are often found in those with lots of body fat. However neither BMI nor the scales are a reliable indicator of such conditions.
  • To infer health risk – it’s better to use a simple measurement of waist circumference (apparently waists greater than 40in for men and 35in for women are a health risk – regardless of height).
  • Pursuit of the perfect weight or BMI is a vague goal – the goalposts will always be changing. Aim for goals such as fitness, strength, endurance, good health. These are lofty goals – but be prepared to be at odds with the rest of our image-obsessed world.

19 Comments

  1. Omega

    Is it really helpful in assessing our health? Being obese put individuals at a higher risk of health problems, but two new studies published today call this realization into a question. The studies indicated that the BMI scale might not be a correct health predictor. Realization that we should not rely on just one medical test with regards to our health condition.

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  2. ThirdVariable

    People are going to use this report to excuse themselves from being overweight.

    The fact is the people in this study who are living longer in the “26” BMI range are likely individuals who are in good shape and have muscle mass that puts them into the overweight category.

    I’m 5’7” 150 lbs, which puts me at a 24 BMI – borderline overweight. I run 7 miles M-W-Sat, and lift weights an hour on T-R-Sun. I eat a healthy diet complete with fruits and vegetables, which amount to no more than 2,200 calories daily.

    Compare this to an individual who is 5’7″ 160 lbs. in the overweight category who does not do any cardiovascular conditioning or weight training, who has his or her fat deposited in the abdominal region.

    The factor here is the amount of omental fat, which has been shown to be a metabolically active organ. It just doesn’t sit there in the gut, it releases inflammatory cytokines, which are the cause of many health problems.

    So the fact is, if you’ve got more fat that than you should have, you’re more likely to have health problems. This study is based on BMI, a number that doesn’t describe the amount of fat you have.

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  3. RedPanda

    Interesting question, Sharon. My maternal grandfather was very fit and swam in the ocean every morning. He died from a heart attack as he was showering after an early morning swim when he was in his early 70s. My grandmother was extremely obese and drank a bottle of port every day; she died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 93.

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  4. Sharon

    I would like to do an informal survey. Of your parents or grandparents, which died younger, the overweight family members or the normal or underweight member. In my family, my mother who was overweight most of her life outlived my father who never let himself get more than 15 lbs. overweight. My brother-in-law outlived my sister. They were both overweight but he was more so.
    What about your family?

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  5. Jim

    Hey TMM,

    I’m happy for people to use some of the articles, provided proper attribution is given – that’s just basic ethics!

    Anyway, you’ll find plenty of interesting discussion here along with a whole stack of ramblings!

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  6. TMM

    Noticed your comments on another blog recently…

    I had no idea that the post copied this article. I have updated the link on my blog to reflect this article as the source. 🙂

    Great site – definitely adding this one to my favorites!

    TMM

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  7. Tim

    James where do you get bison cheese? Or are meaning buffalo cheese?

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  8. James

    You have to know. Being fat is unhealthy, and that was my problem earlier on, as I developed bad cravings on greasy golden arches food and fried foods, as well as starchy foods.

    A BMI of 26 is borderline overweight. Right now, I am about a BMI of 24, but am going to lose down to the 140s this summer.

    People in France are eating more junk foods, french fries, and such. But the bad effects WILL happen in the next five years that people who remained fat will start to have health problems.

    So, do this now. Go to whole foods and eat the full spectrum: from whole grains to fruits and non-starchy veggies, nuts, beans and seeds, milk and dairy, eggs, fish, and a wide variety of meats.

    To make a healthy hambergur, choose for the meat: organic grass-fed non-grounded meat (Bison is HIGHLY recommended) and replace the white sesme-seed bun with a whole grain bun, and replace the fries with peas or a nutrient-rich salad. I am glad that Fireflies BBQ is introducing that on the menu and I like to sometimes eat the classic American diet, just like we did 200 years ago when bison was roaming the plains.

    For healthier pizza, choose free-range cheese and put less of it on there. Use goat or bison cheese (BUT NOT SOY CHEESE!), and use whole grain as the pizza crust dough, as well as grass-fed meat and salmon chunks and mushroom instead of sausage. For the sauce, use organic ingredients and choose one that does not contain high fructose corn syrup. If you want to put some salt on it, choose ionized sea-salt.

    And if you want some dessert, pineapples with raw coconut flakes makes a tasty dessert as it contains capric, caproic, and lauric acid that protects you from cancer, as well as the pinapples that contain chemicals that are good for your joints.

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  9. Peter J.

    It is well known that indirect indices of obesity, such as BMI are not perfect – they merely serve as a crude gauge. And, as someone has mentioned, on an individual basis, are not too useful. It must be said that simply looking at mortality rates is fairly myopic – rates of morbidity, are generally eleveted with increasing BMI, and so even if some evidence shows that obese people live as long as their thinner counterparts, and this is by no means conclusive evidence, their quality of life may be comprimised.

    Emerging evidence suggests that the location of the excess fat in obese individuals may be more important that the absolute amount they carry. Specifically, abdominal obesity is a strong predictor of various obesity-linked conditions, independent of the total fat amount. Even more specifically, fat deposited intra-abdominally among the visceral organs, has been shown to be the strongest predictor of metabolic risk in obese and normal weight individuals. So you are right – weight is not the best, nor the only gauge of obesity related health risk.

    Also, much research by the group in Cooper Institute has shown that the majority of the health risk associated with being obese is erased if you are cardiovascularily fit. The research actually found that an obese but active individual is at less health risk, than is a thin sedentary one. Thus, it may not be the excess fat per se, but the closely tied sedentary lifestyle which predisposed to health risk.

    The message that fat equals death is too exclusive, and thus cannot be true for everyone – there will always be anomalies and exeptions to rules. If you have a BMI of 30 will you necessarily die before your best friend of a 22 BMI – not necessarily. On the other hand, to completely dismiss the health risk of being sedentary and obese would be largely naive. Get enough daily activity, eat healthy, and don’t pay too much attention to numbers. How you physically feel should tell you more about your well being than any height-weight table can.

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  10. Spectra

    I think there is a significant difference between being “overweight” and “overfat”. I put on muscle very easily. When I weighed 130 lbs (down from my highest weight of 190), my doctor told me I was “overweight” but that my bodyfat % was normal. I could also run 4 miles straight at that point and my cholesterol was perfect. But there could be other people out there that are 130 lbs with higher bodyfat % and more unhealthy habits that would put them at risk. So it’s very dependent on the individuals themselves, not on the obese population as a whole.

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  11. Jan

    Kelly, thanks for sharing your experience. My family is pretty fat – most of them would fall into the obese range, some in the morbidly obese range. I have family members that even had bariatric surgery. They *do not* eat healthy or balanced by any means, they are not active, several are smokers. *None* of my fat relatives has high blood pressure, high cholesterol,heart problems, diabetes, or osteoporosis. The ones that had bariatric surgery didn’t even have knee problems from lugging their weight around for years. The only people in my family that have had health problems like diabetes or high blood pressure are the normal weight ones – BMIs 24-26, which are in theory the healthiest ones. So what gives?

    Sure, they get winded climbing a flight of stairs, and that is no way to live. But is deadly? I have to say no. The only family members I’ve had with life-threatening problems or early death were normal weight.

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  12. Kelly Cox Semple

    The diet industry makes $46 billion (with a B) a year in the U.S. alone. It is not it their best interest to tell anyone that it’s possible to be fat AND healthy. As a woman who is classified by their standards as “morbidly obese” (a state in which I’ve lived healthily for more than 30 years), I should, by their standards, be dead or at least disease-ridden. How can they explain that I am not? I have normal glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol. I don’t have diabetes, heart disease, or hypertension. Moreover, I eat a varied combination of nutritious foods in appropriate proportion. But $46 billion convinces a lot of people that it can’t possibly be true.

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  13. Jan

    Michael that is the same way in the US – 25-29 is overweight, 30-39 is obese, and higher than 40 is morbidly obese.

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  14. Michael

    Is the term ‘obese’ really used in the US for people with BMI 26? In Europe, you have to have a BMI of 30 or higher to be called ‘obese’. 26-30 is ‘overweight’ or ‘fat’. If the US uses the same definitions, then obesity really affects your mortality.

    Also, it’s not the obesity that kills you. Obesity in itself doesn’t do much, it’s the increased blood pressure and other complications that follow obesity that are potentially lethal.

    BMI is also a great tool for statistical purposes on large masses, like the population of a city, a state or a country. But on individual level, it’s a really blunt tool. Kind of like using a fork to eat soup. It can be done, but it’s not the right way to do it.

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  15. magmem

    I know I can die from the complications that follow obesity. That is why I am trying to finally do something about it in this late stage. I think fat, feel fat, I look fat, and the statistics all verify I am an obese person. I really had another fat person to lose of off my body who weighed 188 pounds at about 5 feet tall. My apple figure has a waist of 51 1/2 inches, my stomach is 59 inches, my body fat composition is 55%, and my liquid inside tests are all at a dangerous level. There are other factors that even raise the odds. But I am alive and you could never guess those calculations just by looking at me with a glance. So that gives me hope that it is never too late to work at changing ones health and improving my life line. We will all die someday without knowing what caused it unless there is an autopsy. I do believe though my obesity is pushing it with my 188 extra pounds. Don’t tsk tsk me I have lost 40 pounds even though it doesn’t show. See you lighter when?

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  16. Jan

    Oddblot, perfectly put. I think one of the most encouraging studies was the one that showed great improvement in health if people lost 10% of their starting weight. 10% is doable even if you are 300lb – 30lb when you are 300lb is easy to lose, and the study showed lower cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and blood sugar. It has the opposite effect as telling someone who is 300lb “unless you get down to 170lb, your health is gonna be just as bad as when you were 300lb”, which is what this “death by obesity” b.s. does.

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  17. Oddblot

    Thank God someone finally is taking a closer look at this. I’ve thought from the beginning that this “obesity epidemic” is just a lot of hype and bad data collected from insufficient studies. The idea that such a concept may make it to mainstream media gives me hope.

    Really, I think people have an easier time making changes if they can see that all they need to do is be healthier. Losing a lot of weight can be so hopeless feeling and they thing “why bother? no one keeps it off anyway.” Health is an easier goal than weight loss, and might I add that weight loss doesn’t guarantee better health.

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  18. Jan

    Randy – but what is “in shape” exactly? I think that the pursuit of this elusive perfect shape is responsible not only for eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, but also for generating more apathy. It leads to thinking “I’m already obese and going to die anyways, what is the point of doing anything?” or even for people who lose a lot of weight but are still in the obese or overweight ranges to give up on their new lifestyle and regain the weight, because what they’d lost still wasn’t “good enough”.

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  19. Randy Smith

    The biggest risk to all the debate regarding health risk and overweight conditions is the apathy and procrastination that it can generate.

    It is clear that being overweight of obese is unhealthy –specifically and to what extent is continuing to be defined.

    So let’s stop talking about it and do something. There is plenty of time to debate once you are in shape.

    http://www.antiagingatlanta.com

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