Wednesday, December 05, 2007

So close, yet so far away

An Alert Reader sent me a link to this article (Alert Reader, do you have a preferred nickname?), which says so many things that I like. For example, that exercise performance is the best predictor of longevity, period. And that it is a far better predictor of longevity than BMI. That "what something looks like does not tell you how it runs" (my favorite quote in the story, from cardiologist Paul Thompson). That exercise reverses some of the so-called risk factors of obesity including insulin resistance, low HDL cholesterol, and hypertension (we already knew all that, but incidentally, doesn't the fact that exercise "reverses" these factors even in "obese" people suggest that they are not risk factors of obesity at all, but rather risk factors of a sedentary lifestyle?). That "fitness" can result from as little as 30 minutes of walking 5 days a week.

So then why, oh why, is the second page of the article subtitled "Obesity Still a Big, Fat Problem", even though nothing after that subtitle provides any evidence whatsoever for fat being inherently bad for you? And why does the author of this otherwise lovely article feel compelled to add that "Experts say that for the most part, it's uncommon to be fit and fat, which means staying trim is just as important as exercising"? OK, here's a GRE question for you all: does the second half of that sentence follow from the first? Argh. And this is followed up by a gem of a quote from Nathan Wong: "In real life, few abdominally obese patients have a high level of fitness, so practically from a public health point of view, getting across any message implying we place less importance on obesity is ill-advised." So this guy is suggesting that even though a new study just showed, once again, how much more important fitness is than BMI, we still have to be obsessed with fat because of a correlation. Say it with me, people: Correlation does not imply causation. Now say it again, louder, so Nathan Wong can hear you. This pisses me off so much I feel like just typing it over and over again. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation.

The Admiral sent me a Newsweek article that suffers from the same problem, but in reverse. You think it is going to be a totally crappy piece because it basically says that fat women's weight loss goals are not ambitious enough, in that on average the fat woman's ideal amount of weight loss would still leave her in the "overweight" BMI category (god forbid). And we all know that all this "obesity" is really "alarming" (in fact we get the words "alarmingly" and "alarming" in back-to-back sentences in the same paragraph, in case you weren't alarmed enough after the first instance). The author of the study that revealed fat women's modest weight loss goals suggested that a 5'2" woman who weighs 200 pounds probably just thinks it's totally unrealistic to get down to 120 lbs. (which it is, statistically speaking). But then the authors of the Newsweek article follow that up by saying that this "may just mean that women who are very overweight might need to achieve small weight loss goals before they can envision larger losses and change their eating and exercise behaviors accordingly." Oh, yeah, totally, I'm sure that would make it 100% easier; in fact, they should market this as a new foolproof weight loss strategy! Just lose a little bit of weight, and then you will believe that you can lose a lot more weight, and then you will totally do it! It reminds me of the Jenny Craig counselor (a thin woman) who once brilliantly advised my mom, "Maybe if you could just not eat as much..."

This article also cites that lovely "having fat friends will make you fat" idea from a while back, and here is how they explain the effect supposedly found in that study: People with fat friends "may simply see being fat as the new normal." Does this strike anyone else as being completely idiotic? Like somehow if you have fat friends you become incapable of figuring out if someone is fat or not? For some reason I am reminded of Stephen Colbert's claim that he doesn't see race -- like, literally, he can't tell if someone is black. But the difference is that the authors of this article aren't trying to be ironic.

So why am I even bothering to tell you about this article? Well, because at the end, they finally get around to saying that maybe women should be encouraged to feel good about themselves regardless of whether society tells them they are too fat. They cite a study that showed that "girls who felt good about themselves were more likely to be physically active and pay more attention to what they ate," and they advocate "encouraging women to love and care for their bodies — even when they don't match the Hollywood ideal". Then again, they say that the reason to encourage women to feel good about their bodies is that statistically, a woman who feels good about her body is less likely to gain weight, so therefore this may help "reverse or at least slow the progression of the obesity epidemic." So let me just make sure I'm clear on this: We should encourage women to feel good about their bodies, even if they are fat. But if they are fat, that is "alarming", and if they don't make large enough weight-loss goals for themselves, then they just need to lose some weight so they will feel like they can lose more weight so they can become "normal" and therefore not be so alarming to everybody else. But in the mean time they should still try to feel good about themselves.

OK, never mind, that article just plain sucks.

5 comments:

Sdswmr said...

that was a great article. I loved the longevity angle, because I love exercising, but if I think about it as a way to lose weight, I get discouraged. but longevity! that's something I can get used to . . . :-)

Anonymous said...

These are three different articles though. Correct?

The Wong statement makes sense to me. I am a size 18 and exercise regularly, but most of my fat friends and family don't exercise. They don't take walks even for enjoyment, or anything else that is moderately active.

It seems he is trying to say that because fat people feel more uncomfortable in gyms and just in general situations most of the time where weight is being examined by others; saying that exercise is more important than fatness may not work as many fat people don't feel comfortable getting exercise in public places. And while he is doing a really poor job of helping find a solution to societal and medical blunders for the last few hundred years of fat is ugly; he actually is making a semi-valid point.

Let's face it gyms are made for people with limited percent of fat in their bodies and it can be extremely uncomfortable to be the only fat girl. But being fit is hard to do if you're not exercising.

I don't even consider myself fit. But I also don't want diabetes later in life so it is kind of a mixed bag.Fit for me isn't a weight goal. When I can run an eight minute mile and walk sets of stairs with ease; I'll maintain my routine where it is.

The third article about young girls in sports was actually related to young fit girls FYI. The majority of girls playing sports that participated in these studies were already fit and had strong support systems for their physical wellbeing and self-esteem. I hate that article. Every fat-fighting magazine in the world construes it so that it is useful for their purposes. Grr.

Mary said...

Hi Anonymous,

I only cited two articles, so I'm not sure which third one you're referring to. I don't think I posted about any articles on young girls in sports, but based on your description it sounds like I wouldn't want to read it anyway!

In any case, I have to take issue with your interpretation of what Nathan Wong said. First of all, the fact that you know some fat people who aren't active doesn't help Wong's point at all. I'm sure we all know some fat people who aren't active. We all know thin people who aren't active too. So, where does that get us?

But I think you are reading too much into his quote when you say "he is trying to say that because fat people feel more uncomfortable in gyms... many fat people don't feel comfortable getting exercise in public places". He never says anything even remotely resembling this. All he says is that since a lot of fat people are also not fit, therefore we can't just tell people that it's not a big deal to be fat. Whether or not being fat causes people not to exercise is a completely separate question -- it may be true or not, but the article doesn't mention it at all as I recall.

If it is true, should our response as a society be that we tell people not to be fat, rather than trying to eradicate the bias against fat? So basically the argument would go like this: Society has a shitty and unfounded bias against fat people, which makes some fat people uncomfortable in some situations, including at the gym. Therefore, everybody should try to get thin so they can fit in at the gym and get more exercise.

Try this with any other sector of society and you will see why it's not a good argument: e.g., society has a shitty and unfounded bias against old people, which makes some old people uncomfortable in some situations, including at the gym. Therefore, everybody should try to get young so they can fit in at the gym and get more exercise.

Or, how about this one: society has a shitty and unfounded bias against women, which makes some women uncomfortable in some situations, including at the gym. Therefore, everybody should try to get a penis so they can fit in at the gym and get more exercise.

Anonymous said...

I am wondering if you have ever been to Am I Fat? on the internet. www.am-i-fat.com. it seems ridiculous that this is even a website. Not only is it disturbing that healthy lifestyle is never mentioned (fat is not necessarily an unhealthy diet), but also they then provide links to self-help books, diet pills, etc. And their only means of assessing fat is BMI, they don't even acknowledge hip to waist ratio.

Mary said...

Hi, thanks for the link. I hadn't seen that before! What I think is particularly sad is that so many of the people who visit that site seem to be kids (I'm basing that on a quick scan of the "guest book" page).