Well, more like a moral danger, actually.
The current “War on Obesity” raging in the US, the UK, Australia and other countries (please let me know where) is, I believe, based on a US surgeon-general’s 2003 warning (CHECK THIS DATE) that obesity is killing around 400,000 Americans each year.
That warning quoted a Centre for Disease Control statistical analysis which found the 400k result. At the same time another group of scientists, co-ordinated by Katherine Flegal (also of the CDC), were in 2004 analysing different data which they regarded as more accurate.
Such as actual measured weights and heights rather than self-reported weights and heights; people asked to self-report their weight and height tend to under-estimate their weight and over-estimate their height. They also analysed the data in several ways, such as with and without smokers and people with chronic diseases, and their results were similar in every case.
But it was very different results to the 400,000 found by the earlier study: fewer than 100,000 people died as a direct result of obesity each year, and more importantly, being overweight actually gives a statistically longer lifespan. Being significantly over- or –underweight (that is BMI less than 18 or more than 35) does carry health risks, but most of the huge numbers of people now classified as at risk of health issues are in fact simply a bit overweight.
Flegal and her team were well slammed in the media by peers, educating her in the politics of obesity, something she’d never expected. People, she said, explain away or ignore evidence that contradicts what people just know, that weight loss is good for you.
In “Rethinking Thin” by Gina Kolata, Flegal’s data is reconfirmed by a long-term health study by Robert Fogel. He began by studying over 40,000 records of soldiers in the Union Army to get a picture of the height of our recent ancestors and compare them to modern men. The project grew to include census and medical records and other countries such as France and Ghana.
The project is still ongoing, but the finding was clear: as populations grow healthier, they get taller and fatter. And the highest death rates were found at the extremes, the very thinnest and the very fattest. And the best health? In those people who were overweight.
Of course, this study didn’t take into account the people’s lifestyles but as raw data goes, it’s interesting.
And still we need to wonder – why do we find fat people so offensive? The stats say they’re more healthy than thin people. So all that’s left is aesthetics…..
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