New Research on Death Rates of Overweight People

A report published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association and reported on by the NY Times adds weight to my “thin hypothesis” of well over a year ago: death rates for overweight people in 2004 were lower — 100,000 lower — than for “normal” people.

Linking, for the first time, causes of death to specific weights, they report that overweight people have a lower death rate because they are much less likely to die from a grab bag of diseases that includes Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, infections and lung disease. And that lower risk is not counteracted by increased risks of dying from any other disease, including cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

As a consequence, the group from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute reports, there were more than 100,000 fewer deaths among the overweight in 2004, the most recent year for which data were available, than would have expected if those people had been of normal weight.

One expert, a Dr. JoAnn Manson from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, comments critically that “Health extends far beyond mortality rates… [The public needs to look at] the big picture in terms of health outcomes.” However, that’s what Health at Any Size advocates ave been advocating for year, rather than the simple-minded focus on BMI sorting people into “overweight” and “underweight” categories and automatically assuming these were “unhealthy” — and that the “normals” were “healthier”.

This new report gnaws at the seams of this construction, calling into question the meaning of normalcy and healthiness; although Dr. Manson and her “fat is bad” family are correct that some people experience quality of life issues (another huge construction), many don’t other than people — including doctors — pointing at them and yelling “fat bad, skinny good, you ugly and lazy and nasty”! Meanwhile, I think most people would rather not die this year, and would consider dying to be a sign of poor health (and something that also has some quality of life issues…).

2 thoughts on “New Research on Death Rates of Overweight People

  1. This post, the previous post referenced (thin hypothesis), and the referenced study oversimplify an incredibly complex issue–complex on both population and individual levels of analysis.
    The statistic used in the study cited is a correlation. A correlation is a measure of association and can be a good starting place if all variables affecting the relationship are considered.

    Is mortality the only measure of health?

    Is it the best measure of health? Is age at death considered as a variable along with weight?

    Is disease load/health troubles comparable between groups?

    Is body fat (not BMI) addressed as a variable?

    The few questions I posed indicate how many variables were not considered when looking at these data. The question of whether or not fat is healthy is not scientifically valid so I do not support either claim. But, drawing conclusions from bad science like this evidences a lack of critical thinking which obfuscates the true complexity of weight and health interactions.

  2. The “thin hypothesis” has excellent points and tons of commonsense. Battling obesity through force isn’t putting a dent in it statistically, nor for me personally. After 25 years of diets and then a year at the gym with a personal trainer, struggling to change my weight and shape with very modest success and finding I was more tired than ever, I stopped and had a good look at myself and thought, but am I unhealthy? And though I am at a very high 50 BMI, I am not unhealthy. I feel good each day (a year after I stopped 3-days-a-week at the gym) aside from shame associated with the moral judgments I have taken on about my body. Now those I AM trying to shed. 😉

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