Weight and Health: It’s Complicated

Katie Hopkins made it crystal clear that her campaign against people who are overweight or obsess was due to her opinion that they would drain the UK’s nationalized health system of funds because of all their health problems that could be easily fixed if overweight people weren’t so lazy.

After all everyone knows that people who have more fat are more likely to die young, right?
Except that is not exactly true. In fact, if statistics pan out, at our starting weights (me at 171lbs and her at 125lbs), I have a higher chance living longer than Hopkins! In a meta-analysis of 97 studies and a massive sample size of 2.88 million people, researchers found that those who are overweight (BMI from 25-29) had significantly lower mortality (6%) and those who were mildly obese (BMI 30- 34) had no increase in mortality. Those who were in the lower end of normal weight, such as Hopkins with her starting point of 19.5 BMI, had a higher mortality rate than those who are heavier. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/791407
This is why the medical field is now encouraging doctors to measure more than just BMI. Studies have found that waist to hip ratio and muscle mass percentages are both better indicators of increased mortality than BMI. Being active, having more muscle, eating more vegetables is a better predictor of health and longevity than being a thinner couch potato who eats junk food.
Equally as important in the health/weight discussion is the fact that often weight gain or weight loss can be a symptom of a health issue rather than the cause of one and it can also be a side effect of drugs that could be treating a health problem and making a person more healthy.
For example, steroids can treat certain auto-immune illnesses, but can cause rapid water retention and weight gain. Children who must takes steroids to treat these illnesses can look obese but it has nothing to do with an unhealthy diet but instead, simply due to the medication. Conversely, weight loss can be a symptom of many diseases, for example cancer, AIDS, or tuberculosis, so may not be a sign of health at all. When working with people with substance addictions like I do, weight gain can often be a sign of the person getting healthy and rapid weight loss, a sign of relapse.
Hopkin’s statement that people should comment on children’s weight and “call them fat” is outrageously offensive when one considers that the child could easily have a serious health condition that a stranger or even acquaintance may know nothing about. Equally as offensive though is the fact that many people with diseases that cause weight loss are often complemented by people stating “You look like you lost weight! How did you do it?” When the answer is “cancer” the questioner has just created an extremely awkward situation.
Because weight gain and loss often a symptom of health issues rather than the cause of them and because people’s bodies belong to themselves, they should not be a topic for comment by those who are not extremely intimate and invested in their lives. If you want to compliment someone, perhaps choose that color of nail polish or that great shirt or gorgeous necklace, or, if you want to be very brave, compliment them on the kindness, courage, or patience you see them show.

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2 thoughts on “Weight and Health: It’s Complicated

  1. I had a total stranger approach me in the Parks City Mall in Lancaster, PA, when I was pregnant with your husband. At the time I had my three other kids, along with three others that I provided daycare for, one was mulatto, one one was black and one was Caucasian. She literally started poking at my big belly and shouting, “good god lady, haven’t you ever heard of the pill.” I truly wanted to deck her, but instead I told her in no uncertain terms that it was none of her business and we were hoping for another 12 and at that she exhaled a huge “huff” and walked away indignant. I’m the one that got the last laugh.

  2. Pingback: Katie Hopkins and the Just-World Fallacy | Jessica Veldstra

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