Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Healthful life with round corners

I'll have a pastrami on rye, chips and a Diet Coke, for medicinal reasons, of course--Federal scientists have found that moderately overweight people live longer than the obese or the scrawny, or even the normal. Now we're talking serious research.

People who have something to hang on to are much less likely to die from Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease and while they are more likely than others to die of cancer, diabetes or heart disease, the increased rate does not make up for the benefits of not dying from the other stuff. You may be assured that this conclusion, published in JAMA, does not go uncontested from the weight police. It also flies in the face of conventional wisdom, bless it. The research came from the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute.

"It's just rubbish," said Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health to the Washington Post. "It's just ludicrous to say there is no increased risk of mortality from being overweight. . . . From a health standpoint, it's definitely undesirable to be overweight."

“I believe the data,” said Dr. Elizabeth Barrett-Connor, a professor of family and preventive medicine at the University of California, San Diego to the New York Times. A body mass index of 25 to 30, the so-called overweight range, “may be optimal,” she said.

People come in different weight classifications: normal, underweight, overweight and obese. Absolutely no one thinks obese is a good thing, either for health or aesthetics. The fight is over the other three. As Gina Kolata points out in the Times, a woman five-feet-four, would be normal at 130 lbs, underweight at 107, overweight at 150 and obese at 180. It’s the overweight category we’re talking about here.

Studies in mice, for instance, report that being seriously underweight, eating a near starvation diet, is linked [how I hate that word] to increased life span. There are no data supporting that notion in humans. The assumption has long been that the less you weigh the longer you will live. What the new research now shows is that—duh—things are more complicated than that.

Several years ago, Katherine M. Flegal, a senior research scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, reported that the common wisdom may not have been correct. "It's not a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all situation, where excess weight just increases your mortality risk for any and all causes of death,” she said. Her study caused a major eruption in the blood pressure of most other scientists. The fat hit the fire, so to speak. The new work supports and expands on her study.

The analysis is based on the best cause-of-death data that federal scientists collected between 1971 and 2004 from the records of 2.3 million adults.

Being overweight but not obese was associated only with excess mortality from diabetes and kidney disease -- not from cancer or heart disease. There were fewer instances of death from tuberculosis, emphysema, pneumonia, Alzheimer's disease and injuries.

I am old enough to have learned certain rules of life. (Borrowing from Nelson Algren, the three most important are: "Never play poker with a man called Doc; never eat at a place called Mom's, and never, ever, no matter what else you do in life, go to bed with someone who has more troubles than you do.")

The fourth is "all things in moderation. Especially moderation."

Excuse me. It's dinner time.


Ken said...

At the least there is very little difference between "normal" and overweight. Possibly what is important is to do some exercise (in moderation of course). Otherwise don't smoke or drink yourself to death and your expected life span wont be much different to someone who obsesses.

merry said...

Joel, you always make me feel better. Now I can safely go break the other leg and not mind about all the weight I gained with the first one.

Yer fountain pen buddy,