Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Life and Obesity

If you can only have one, which would you prefer - a shorter, healthy life or a longer one with some minor health problems? Without any debate, the government, especially Mayor Bloomberg, is deciding for you and choosing the first option.

Here is the background - major studies on weight show that people who are classified as overweight live the longest. People who in the normal and obese ranges live around the same length. The people with the shortest life spans are the underweight and the morbidly obese.

These figures came out a few years ago and totally disrupted the government's message that being "normal" weight is the best option. So they backtracked a bit and announced that being overweight leads to all sorts of health problems, things like diabetes. that quickly became the new message and is the reasoning behind the announced ban on large sugared soft drinks in New York City. A big part of the justification for government intrusion on something as personal as body weight is the cost for government-provided medical services required for the obese.

The thing here is that I am not sure that the link between weight and health problems is as iron-clad as they are making out.

A related issue is salt. It turns out that the link between salt and high blood pressure is very tenuous and that limiting yourself to the government-recommended daily intake of salt could actually hurt your health instead of improving it. The government is full of anti-salt bigots who insist that "if we let people have more salt then they win" ("they" meaning food producers). So valid research has been suppressed because of personal bias.

The same thing happened for decades with dietary fat. There is no link between dietary fat and heart disease but a few researchers decided that there was in the 1950s and shouted down anyone who disagreed.

The wisest quote I have heard on these subjects came after the study that showed that overweight people lived longer. It was "We tend to medicalize conditions that we do not approve of." In other words, overweight people offend us so we are sure that there must be some medical reason why people should lose weight. And if there is no actual reason then we invent one.

There has been no national debate on the best weight, not even within the medical community. There is only the insistence that we need to be thinner, even when studies show otherwise.

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