Apr 16th 2014

The 'Fat But Fit' Fallacy

by Jeff Schweitzer

Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology

We all like to eat. Most of us want to eat well; at least we try to be good some of the time. We all know that how and what we eat directly impact our health and well-being. Yet few subjects are more prone to confusion and distortion than diet and nutrition.

We are promised amazing results with an endless stream of diet plans: Atkins, Dean Ornish, the Zone, South Beach, Glycemic Index, the list is nearly endless. Grocery stores sell magazines shouting out blatantly false claims that promise to help readers "lose weight like a teenager," "lose belly fat," "lose 11 lbs a week," and "fill up on fat-burning super foods." We are sold hormone supplements, told the benefits of "anti-inflammatory foods" and promised results if we only would take acetyl coenzyme A. These promises cannot be kept because they defy the simplest laws of biology and physics. This is what the FDA and nutritionists say about fat-burning foods: "No substance has ever been shown to actually do this." "Consumers should know that there is no such thing as a fat-burning pill." So much misinformation and myth has enveloped popular ideas about diet and nutrition that even the most basic facts have become distorted. Commonly used terms like fat, calorie or body mass index (BMI) are widely misunderstood and abused by the unscrupulous. Some of this is harmless hype that will simply part some fools from their money; but some common myths are downright dangerous. Perhaps none is more so than the idea of "fat but fit."

Fat is Not Fit

A recent article in the New York Times rightly explained the limits and deficiencies in using BMI as an indicator of health and longevity. BMI misses more than half of people with excess body fat. Inversely, because BMI is deeply flawed, we find that some people considered overweight according to BMI measurements are at least as healthy as someone considered of normal weight (in terms of BMI). Fine, so far; we can use this knowledge to moderate and guide the use of BMI as a tool in our arsenal. But something more nefarious has happened: this inherent flaw in BMI has led to the dangerous and patently ridiculous idea that one can be simultaneously fat but healthy. Nothing could be further from the truth, as we will see next. Data provided here are taken from the original citations in Calorie Wars: Fat, Fact and Fiction.

Biology is a science of averages in which we can see significant individual variability. While smoking hugely increases one's risk for lung cancer, not all smokers get the disease. Such outliers prove rather than refute the rule by emphasizing the rarity of the unusual. Indeed a small percentage of obese people do not exhibit some of the problems associated with being overweight. This is to be expected because few things are absolute in biology. Yet while we can point to a few obese individuals who do not appear to be at increased risk for heart disease, that should offer no consolation to anybody, nor can we draw any meaningful conclusions from the outliers. Just because Betty Sue won the lottery does not mean her neighbor will too. On average, obesity leads to an increased risk for a variety of deadly ailments, and obese individuals have a greater chance of suffering from such diseases. Most Americans die sooner than necessary by stroke, heart attack or cancer, and obesity increases the risk for all of these.

We know absolutely that obesity creates an increased risk of diabetes. In 1990 about 11 million Americans had type 2 adult onset diabetes, a disease of insulin resistance that commonly coexists with obesity; just nine years later the number was 16 million, or about 6 percent of all Americans. Then from 1999 to 2003 we saw a 41 percent increase in diagnosed diabetes. Since then obesity has ballooned to an astounding 64 percent of all Americans and the number of diabetics continues to explode. The insulin resistance syndrome associated with obesity has other dire consequences, including hypertension and the increased risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

Another problem with "fat but fit" is simple mechanics. The human body evolved from a period of deprivation where food was scarce and difficult to obtain. Our ancestors were almost certainly lean. In any case, we are not engineered to bear excess weight on our joints. Obesity leads to arthritis -- and often to joint replacement not only because of the mechanical stress it can cause but because fat produces chemicals that attack cartilage. Think of it this way: If you stuff 20 people into a VW Bug, the suspension will wear out faster and the engine will have to work harder, ultimately reducing its useful life.

Also, consider the following realities:

• About 300,000 deaths per year are attributed to obesity; in spite of the deep flaws in BMI, we know that individuals with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 have a 50 percent to 100 percent increased risk of premature death from all causes compared to lean people with lower BMIs.

• High blood pressure is twice as common in obese adults compared to those with a healthy weight; obesity is associated with elevated blood fat (triglycerides) and decreased good cholesterol (HDL).

• A weight gain of only 11 to 18 pounds increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes; over 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese.

• Obesity is associated with an increased risk of cancer of the uterus, colon, gall bladder, prostate, kidney, and postmenopausal breast cancer.

• Sleep apnea is more common in obese people. And some recent studies have indicated that a lack of sleep might impact hormone levels to a degree that could, indeed, cause weight gain.

• Obesity during pregnancy is associated with a greater risk of birth defects, including spina bifida.

• Every increase in weight of two pounds increases the risk of arthritis by 9 percent to 13 percent.

One final consideration on the idea of being fat but fit: Obesity affects quality of life through limited mobility, decreased physical endurance, and social, academic and job discrimination. While we know we should not judge a book by its cover, we all do. Yes, we should be comfortable with and love ourselves for who we are, and we need not look like a fashion model. But that truth is no excuse for carrying around excess weight, or deluding oneself into thinking that fat can be healthy.

Fat is Not Inevitable

The idea of "fat but fit" is simply an attempt to justify rather than address a problem. Countless people struggle daily with excess weight, and wishing it away won't help. Too much is at stake for us to succumb to lies, misleading advertisements, disinformation and bad biology perpetrated on us by a $40 billion diet industry and unscrupulous doctors. We are all easy targets because we want to be attractive, trim and sexy. We want to feel good about ourselves. We want so badly to find a magic bullet, discover a pill that will help put right our image in the mirror. That wish for a quick fix is pure fantasy, but do not despair, because the truth too is that the solutions to diet problems are simple -- and realistic.

We need not be victims of pseudo-medicine, bad science and bogus claims. In spite of all the phony prophets and charlatan MDs selling false hope, we each have the power to take control over our own lives; we can control our health, our diet and nutrition, our weight. You don't need a ridiculous doctor in surgical scrubs on TV telling you what to do; you don't need a mega-corporation telling you what to eat.

With just a few simple ideas, we can master our struggle with weight gain. Want to be slimmer and healthier? The rules are straightforward. Yes, following the simple rules is not always so easy; maintaining a good weight and a trim figure requires commitment and work. Like all things in life, anything worth achieving requires some effort. But if we can incorporate these three simple rules into our daily lives, we can be successful.

Eat less: Snack less often, eat slowly, reduce portions or pick full portions of lower calorie foods. This does not mean deprivation; just less than what you eat now.

Eat well
: Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and less processed food, eat fiber and whole grains; drink water. Run like mad if someone tries to sell you a diet that excludes a major food group like carbs, fats or proteins.

Exercise
: Even five minutes per day is better than nothing at all; incorporate something, anything, that involves physical activity into your daily routine that you can live with and stick to.

That is it; everything else is fluff, an unnecessary distraction from what is real. There is no fat-but-fit, no magic bullets, no fantasy fat-burning foods. Diet supplements, pills, elaborate meal plans, hormones, energy powders, protein drinks are all devious ways to separate us from our money. We need to embrace just three simple rules to lose weight, trim down and be healthier. That is the truth. The whole truth.

Follow Jeff Schweitzer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JeffSchweitzer




  

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 13th 2024
EXTRACT: "That said, even if Europe were to improve its deterrence capabilities, it would be unwise to assume that leaders necessarily make rational decisions. In her 1984 book The March of Folly, historian Barbara Tuchman observes that political leaders frequently act against their own interests. America’s disastrous wars in the Middle East, the Soviet Union’s ill-fated campaign in Afghanistan, and the ongoing war of blind hatred between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, with its potential to escalate into a larger regional conflict, are prime examples of such missteps. As Tuchman notes, the march of folly is never-ending. That is precisely why Europe must prepare itself for an era of heightened vigilance."
Apr 13th 2024
EXTRACTS: " Nathan Cofnas is a research fellow in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. His research is supported by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust. He is also a college research associate at Emmanuel College. Working at the intersection of science and philosophy, he has published several papers in leading peer-reviewed journals. He also writes popular articles and posts on Substack. In January, Cofnas published a post called “Why We Need to Talk about the Right’s Stupidity Problem.” No one at Cambridge seems to have been bothered by his argument that people on the political right have, on average, lower intelligence than those on the left." ---- "The academic world will be watching what happens. Were the University of Cambridge to dismiss Cofnas, it would sound a warning to students and academics everywhere: when it comes to controversial topics, even the world’s most renowned universities can no longer be relied upon to stand by their commitment to defend freedom of thought and discussion."
Apr 13th 2024
EXTRACTS: "Word has been sent down from on high that there is room for only “good stories of China.” Anyone who raises questions about problems, or even challenges, faces exclusion from the public sessions. That was certainly true for me." ----- " But my admiration for the Chinese people and the extraordinary transformation of China’s economy over the past 45 years persists. I still disagree with the consensus view in the West that the Chinese miracle was always doomed to fail. Moreover, I remain highly critical of America’s virulent Sinophobia, while maintaining the view that China faces serious structural growth challenges. And I continue to believe that US-China codependency offers a recipe for mutually beneficial conflict resolution. My agenda remains analytically driven, not politically motivated."
Apr 11th 2024
EXTRACTS: "The insurrection began just after 8 p.m. on November 8, 1923, when Hitler and his followers burst into a political rally and held the crowd hostage. ---- The Nazi attempt to seize power ended the following morning, ---- After two and a half days in hiding, Germany’s most wanted man was discovered ----- Hitler was charged with treason, and his trial began on February 26, 1924. ---- .....the judge, having found Hitler guilty, imposed the minimum sentence....That miscarriage of justice was facilitated by the trial’s location in the anti-democratic south, and by the role of the presiding judge, Georg Neithardt, a conservative who was happy to allow Hitler to use his court as a platform to attack the Republic. ----- Like Hitler in 1924, Trump is using the courtroom as a stage on which to present himself as the victim, arguing that a crooked 'deep state' is out to get him."
Apr 9th 2024
EXTRACTS: "If Kennedy’s emphasis on healing suggests someone who has been through “recovery,” that is because he has. Following the trauma of losing both his father and his uncle to assassins’ bullets, Kennedy battled, and ultimately overcame, an addiction to heroin. Like Kennedy, Shanahan also appears to be channeling personal affliction. She describes grappling with infertility, as well as the difficulties associated with raising her five-year-old daughter, Echo, who suffers from autism," ----- "Armed with paranoid conspiracy theories about America’s descent into chronic sickness, loneliness, and depression, Kennedy has heedlessly spread lies about the putative dangers of life-saving vaccines while mouthing platitudes about resilience and healing. To all appearances, he remains caught in a twisted fantasy that he just might be the one who will realize his father’s idealistic dreams of a better America."
Mar 18th 2024
EXTRACT: "....the UK’s current economic woes – falling exports, slowing growth, low productivity, high taxes, and strained public finances – underscore the urgency of confronting Brexit’s catastrophic consequences."
Mar 18th 2024
EXTRACTS: Most significant of all, Russia’s Black Sea fleet has suffered significant losses over the past two years. As a result of these Ukrainian successes, the Kremlin decided to relocate the Black Sea fleet from Sevastopol to Novorossiysk on the Russian mainland. Compare that with the situation prior to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 when Russia had a secure lease on the naval base of Sevastopol until 2042." --- "Ukrainian efforts have clearly demonstrated, however, that the Kremlin’s, and Putin’s personal, commitment may not be enough to secure Russia’s hold forever. Kyiv’s western partners would do well to remember that among the spreading gloom over the trajectory of the war."
Mar 8th 2024
EXTRACT: "As the saying goes, 'It’s the economy, stupid.' Trump’s proposed economic-policy agenda is now the greatest threat to economies and markets around the world."
Mar 8th 2024
EXTRACT: "Russia, of course, brought all these problems on itself. It most certainly is not winning the war, either militarily or on the economic front. Ukraine is recovering from the initial shock, and if robust foreign assistance continues, it will have an upper hand in the war of attrition."
Mar 8th 2024
EXTRACT: "...... with good timing and good luck, enabled Trump to defeat [in 2016] political icon Hillary Clinton in a race that appeared tailor-made for her. But contrary to what Trump might claim, his victory was extremely narrow. In fact, he lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes – a larger margin than any other US president in history. Since then, Trump has proved toxic at the ballot box. " -----"The old wisdom that 'demographics is destiny' – coined by the French philosopher Auguste Comte – may well be more relevant to the outcome than it has been to any previous presidential election. "----- "Between the 2016 and 2024 elections, some 20 million older voters will have died, and about 32 million younger Americans will have reached voting age. Many young voters disdain both parties, and Republicans are actively recruiting (mostly white men) on college campuses. But the issues that are dearest to Gen Z’s heart – such as reproductive rights, democracy, and the environment – will keep most of them voting Democratic."
Mar 8th 2024
EXTRACTS: "How can America’s fundamentalist Christians be so enthusiastic about so thoroughly un-Christian a politician?" ---- "If you see and think outside the hermeneutic code of Christian fundamentalism, you might be forgiven for viewing Trump as a ruthless, wholly self-interested man intent on maximizing power, wealth, and carnal pleasure. What your spiritual blindness prevents you from seeing is how the Holy Spirit uses him – channeling the 'secret power of lawlessness,' as the Book of 2 Thessalonians describes it – to restrain the advent of ultimate evil, or to produce something immeasurably greater: the eschaton (end of history), when the messiah comes again."
Mar 1st 2024
EXTRACT: "The lesson is that laws and regulatory structures are critical to state activities that produce local-level benefits. If citizens are to push for reforms and interventions that increase efficiency, promote inclusion, and enable entrepreneurship, innovation, and long-term growth, they need to recognize this. The kind of effective civil society Nilekani envisions thus requires civic engagement, empowerment, and education, including an understanding of the rights and responsibilities implied by citizenship."
Feb 9th 2024
EXTRACT: "Despite the widespread belief that the global economy is headed for a soft landing, recent trends offer little cause for optimism."
Feb 9th 2024
EXTRACT: " Consider, for example, the ongoing revolution in robotics and automation, which will soon lead to the development of robots with human-like features that can learn and multitask the way we do. Or consider what AI will do for biotech, medicine, and ultimately human health and lifespans. No less intriguing are the developments in quantum computing, which will eventually merge with AI to produce advanced cryptography and cybersecurity applications."
Feb 9th 2024
EXTRACTS: "The implication is clear. If Hamas is toppled, and there is no legitimate Palestinian political authority capable of filling the vacuum it leaves behind, Israel will probably find itself in a new kind of hell." ----- "As long as the PLO fails to co-opt Hamas into the political process, it will be impossible to establish a legitimate Palestinian government in post-conflict Gaza, let alone achieve the dream of Palestinian statehood. This is bad news for both Israelis and Palestinians. But it serves Netanyahu and his coalition of extremists just fine."
Jan 28th 2024
EXTRACTS: "According to estimates by the United Nations, China’s working-age population peaked in 2015 and will decline by nearly 220 million by 2049. Basic economics tells us that maintaining steady GDP growth with fewer workers requires extracting more value-added from each one, meaning that productivity growth is vital. But with China now drawing more support from low-productivity state-owned enterprises, and with the higher-productivity private sector remaining under intense regulatory pressure, the prospects for an acceleration of productivity growth appear dim."
Jan 28th 2024
EXTRACT: "When Chamberlain negotiated the notorious Munich agreement with Hitler in September 1938, The Times did not oppose the transfer of the Sudetenland to Germany without Czech consent. Instead, Britain’s most prestigious establishment broadsheet declared that: “The volume of applause for Mr Chamberlain, which continues to grow throughout the globe, registers a popular judgement that neither politicians nor historians are likely to reverse.” "
Jan 4th 2024
EXTRACTS: "Another Trump presidency, however, represents the greatest threat to global stability, because the fate of liberal democracy would be entrusted to a leader who attacks its fundamental principles." ------"While European countries have relied too heavily on US security guarantees, America has been the greatest beneficiary of the post-war political and economic order. By persuading much of the world to embrace the principles of liberal democracy (at least rhetorically), the US expanded its global influence and established itself as the world’s “shining city on a hill.” Given China and Russia’s growing assertiveness, it is not an exaggeration to say that the rules-based international order might not survive a second Trump term."
Dec 28th 2023
EXTRACT: "For the most vulnerable countries, we must create conditions that enable them to finance their climate-change mitigation" ........ "The results are already there: in two years, following the initiative we took in Paris in the spring of 2021, we have released over $100 billion in special drawing rights (SDRs, the International Monetary Fund’s reserve asset) for vulnerable countries.By activating this “dormant asset,” we are extending 20-year loans at near-zero interest rates to finance climate action and pandemic preparedness in the poorest countries. We have begun to change debt rules to suspend payments for such countries, should a climate shock occur. And we have changed the mandate of multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank, so that they take more risks and mobilize more private money."
Dec 27th 2023
EXTRACT: "....if AI causes truly catastrophic increases in inequality – say, if the top 1% were to receive all pretax income – there might be limits to what tax reforms could accomplish. Consider a country where the top 1% earns 20% of pretax income – roughly the current world average. If, owing to AI, this group eventually received all pretax income, it would need to be taxed at a rate of 80%, with the revenue redistributed as tax credits to the 99%, just to achieve today’s pretax income distribution; funding the government and achieving today’s post-tax income distribution would require an even higher rate. Given that such high rates could discourage work, we would likely have to settle for partial inequality insurance, analogous to having a deductible on a conventional insurance policy to reduce moral hazard."