In the UK, the government sponsors the “National Child Measurement Programme”, an attempt to combat childhood obesity by assessing the height and weight of children. The program does the measurements in the schools, and then sends letters home to parents.
Lucy, a five year old, was measured and the letter warned she “may have an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer as her body mass index (BMI) was outside recommended guidelines”.
The Daily Mail Onlline recounts the reaction of the parents. As the mother said:
I couldn’t believe what I was reading, Lucy is five-years-old and not fat in the slightest. She shouldn’t even be thinking about her weight at her age.
‘I want her to be running around playing and having fun, not worrying about what she looks like.
It would be easy to say mum is a bit sensitive about her daughter’s weight, and in denial about how she is setting her daughter up for medical problems by her poor parenting.
The problem with formulas to determine optimum weight for an individual is that they are often just plain wrong. A number doesn’t make you healthy. And in Lucy’s case, the number is obviously wrong, as anyone with any sense can see. But perhaps that’s more than we can ask from a government program. Here’s a picture of Lucy:
She looks like the picture of health, to me. Sounds like the bloated, overweight, tub-of-lard actor in this issue is not the kids in Britain, but the fat-ass government.
Tom Naughton deconstructs the “obesity epidemic” at his blog Fat Head:
But what I found most interesting was the data on who’s “overweight” and by how much. Here are the numbers:
- More than 50 pounds overweight: 6%
- 21-50 pounds overweight: 17%
- 11-20 pounds overweight: 15%
- 1-10 pounds overweight: 24%
- At ideal weight: 18%
- 1-10 pounds underweight: 7%
- 11-20 pounds underweight: 3%
- More than 20 pounds underweight: 1%
- Undesignated: 9%
As we noted in our post Does Being Overweight Harm Your Health, all-cause mortality studies show that you have a 17% less chance of dying if you are in the “overweight” BMI (as compared to being “normal weight”). Even being “obese” was statistically even with being “normal weight” in these studies. The absolute worse thing you can do is be “underweight”, with a stunning 73% greater risk of dying than a “normal” weight person.
We have also noted our belief that individuals have to assess their own health needs and identify their individual risk factors, rather than focusing on a “society wide goal”. If your risk factors lean more towards developing diabetes II, then controlling blood sugar levels may be more important than being within 10 pounds of some goal weight. And as McNaughton notes, adult onset diabetes is at epidemic levels:
A different Gallup poll underscores another point I made in the film: there is a genuine epidemic out there, and it’s called diabetes. More than 11% percent of Americans adults have diabetes now, and more than 90% of those have type 2 diabetes, which is mostly preventable. The rate has more than doubled in the last decade alone. Among senior citizens, the numbers are even more harrowing: nearly one-quarter have diabetes. Just think of all the physical damage that’s causing. And even those numbers don’t count the pre-diabetics.
Nutritionists tend to focus on the weight end of the scale (so to speak), but they are missing the point. You can’t push a string. People are overweight because of their blood sugar levels (i.e., hyperinsulinemia, insulin resistance and related disorders leading to diabetes). They are not suffering from high blood sugar levels because of their weight. As Naughton sums it up:
The constant drumbeat about the obesity epidemic and the emphasis on losing weight is sending the wrong message. We need to tell people to get their blood sugar checked and keep it under control with the proper diet. If we do that, the 10 pounds will take care of itself. And if it doesn’t, well … so what? A bit of belly won’t kill you if it’s not the result of high blood sugar.
If your blood sugar is elevated, the way to get it under control is by adopting a low carb eating lifestyle. You will lose weight, but the most important thing is that you will live longer. And living longer is the goal.
Two studies alluded to in my post “Does Being Overweight Harm Your Health” have been linked on our Obesity research page.
The surprising results of these two studies, and others like them, is that being in the overweight category when measured by BMI is not harmful. You have the same statistical chance of living to the same age as normal weight people.
Making Sense of the Studies
What about studies that show cancer deaths are reduced for people in a certain weight class, or that deaths from diabetes are higher for people who are overweight? What the two studies linked show is that overall, in the general population, people’s lives average out longer if they are normal or overweight, but are much shorter if underweight or obese.
But you are not an average. So you have to look at your individual risk factors. In my case, I have high risk for diabetes because of my “syndrome X” or “metabolic syndrome” risk factors. My diet is designed to reduce those risk factors and so far, I’ve made good progress. If the end result is that I’m not diabetic but still a bit overweight, I’ll fret that my profile isn’t what it was when I was 17, but I’ll live as long as my thin brother. And I’ll enjoy life.
I could go beyond addressing my individual need, and work for a vanity outcome: thin as a Hollywood star. But I wouldn’t enjoy my life nearly as much. And I would die younger, according to the averages. Its small consolation that a bunch of overweight people will cry at my funeral.
has to be the goal, and healthy
might mean different things to someone with different family histories or other risk factors. Weight alone is not the standard.