Wednesday, April 20, 2005

I MUST ADMIT to feeling quite smug about the report that came out today in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It seems that last year's government study, which purported to show that 400,000 Americans died every year as a result of excess body fat; and that excess body fat killed more people than tobacco, was misleading and inaccurate.

The [new] study estimated that obesity killed about 112,000 people, most of whom were extremely obese with body sizes equivalent to a 5-foot-4-inch woman who weighed 204 or more pounds. The effects of milder obesity on death were less severe.

In addition, the scientists found that being underweight killed an estimated 34,000 Americans each year. Risk of death from being underweight was especially high among the elderly.

The scientists reported that people who were merely overweight, as opposed to obese, suffered 86,000 fewer deaths than those whose weight was in the so-called healthy range.

Detractors say that the new study did not adequately control for people who are thin because they smoke or because they are sick -- ignoring or forgetting the fact that last year's government study, published by the Centers for Disease Control, came under fire when it was discovered that a number of CDC scientists had expressed serious concerns about the study's methodology prior to its publication. Plus, I find it odd that thin is considered normal by definition except in certain specific instances -- but studies connecting excess body fat with increased mortality rates do not generally break down those mortality rates to see how many of those overweight people were completely or almost completely sedentary as well as how many were morbidly obese. Perhaps, if scientists want to say that thin is normal except for smokers and sick people, they should also say that excess body fat is not abnormal or unhealthy, except for people who don't get significant amounts of exercise and except for people who are at the very extreme end of obesity.

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