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More on Weight, Disease and Longevity

The controversy over whether higher weight leads to increased disease and mortality is as confusing as the one over whether sugar is addictive or not. First we hear that obesity leads to poor health and premature death, then we hear that it doesn’t. All we can do is stay informed and pay attention to the results of reputable research studies. I offer the following information not to take sides in the debate, but in the hopes that you’ll take it in with self-compassion and use it to motivate yourself to become healthier.

According to an article in the 3/13 Nutrition Action Health Letter, “Weighing the options: do extra pounds mean extra years,” a recent “fatter-people-live-longer” meta-analysis reported on in the Journal of the American Medical Association was so flawed as to make its results false—its numbers were skewed by including former smokers and people who were sick and it failed to look at different age ranges separately. The Health Letter article also maintains that the study (which evaluated other studies) left out some which would have proven their conclusion false, that is, there are many reputable, valid studies which do show that “people who are overweight have higher risks of dying than those in the lean group” but they were not included in the meta-analysis.

Why is this issue important? Although it’s true that you can be fit and fat, it’s equally true that many of you who carry more weight than you’d like are neither fit nor healthy. The point in discussing the relationship of obesity to health is to help you take better care of yourself. For example, if you read that obesity does not increase your chance of disease or dying prematurely, you may think that gives you license to eat unhealthily. Alternately, if you read that obesity is linked to poor health and increased mortality, you may feel hopeless that you’ll ever escape what seems inevitable. Take a minute to consider your reaction in either case.

If, in fact, the truth is that more pounds lead to more disease, a poorer quality of life, and an increased chance of dying prematurely, how can you make that knowledge work for, not against, you? Many people reading this conclusion feel afraid, a useful reaction. Did you feel fear? If so, how can you hold onto that fear when you’re considering eating when you’re not hungry or rebelling against exercising? Fear is the go-to emotion to experience because it connects present action to consequence, something that is often difficult for disregulated eaters to do. The trick is to hold onto the fear without turning it into helplessness, despair, judgment, or paralyzing terror, to let it do its work in helping you practice what is healthy because it’s too scary to do what isn’t.