It’s about time that we start to see articles in major newspapers like this one by Carrie Dennett in The Washington Post, “Does obesity automatically mean poor health” (10/4/16, We’ve been scolded for decades about fat equaling an unhealthy body and mind and putting those of high weights onto a path that leads to an early death. That’s mainstream media for you, often lagging behind reporting on cutting edge research (described in Body Respect by Bacon and Aphramor or Secrets from the Eating Lab by Mann) that draws surprisingly different conclusions.
Dennett writes: “For every study suggesting that as body mass index increases, the risk of chronic disease and early death also increases, there are others demonstrating that people can be healthy—or unhealthy—at almost any body weight.” One such study describes how “‘metabolic health’ was more important than BMI when it came to estimating future health risks.” The truth is that both genetics and lifestyle choices play a part in being healthy or unhealthy. And speaking of BMI, you may be surprised to learn that Body Mass Index “isn’t the best way of looking at weight” because it doesn’t distinguish between body fat and lean muscle and doesn’t look at fat distribution.
The article continues: “As for whether weight loss improves health, that depends. For healthy obese individuals who have normal blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels, losing weight…in some cases actually contributes to unhealthy physical and psychological effects, including further weight gain.” Moreover, “The research studies that actually consider fitness when looking at the connection between weight and health tend to find that healthy obese individuals are fitter than their unhealthy obese peers and have essentially the same risk of chronic disease and premature death as the healthy normal-weight participants.”
So, what does this mean for you? It means that you want to focus on achieving health not losing weight. I feel as if I’ve said this a million times, but it bears repeating. Look to change your lab numbers not the digits on the scale. Feel proud of taking care of your body and being or staying fit. Don’t buy into scare tactics that tell you that high weight equals more disease and premature death. And, a positive action you can take at a high weight is to ignore people who stigmatize and shame others for their size. If you’ve already internalized negative perceptions about being at a high weight, let go of those perceptions and move toward a more positive and accepting body image.