May 22, 2013

WORRY ABOUT FITNESS, NOT FATNESS:

The big fat truth : More and more studies show that being overweight does not always shorten life -- but some public-health researchers would rather not talk about them. (Virginia Hughes, 22 May 2013, Nature)

The report, a meta-analysis of 97 studies including 2.88 million people, had been released on 2 January in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)1. A team led by Katherine Flegal, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, Maryland, reported that people deemed 'overweight' by international standards were 6% less likely to die than were those of 'normal' weight over the same time period.

The result seemed to counter decades of advice to avoid even modest weight gain, provoking coverage in most major news outlets -- and a hostile backlash from some public-health experts. "This study is really a pile of rubbish, and no one should waste their time reading it," said Walter Willett, a leading nutrition and epidemiology researcher at the Harvard school, in a radio interview. Willett later organized the Harvard symposium -- where speakers lined up to critique Flegal's study -- to counteract that coverage and highlight what he and his colleagues saw as problems with the paper. "The Flegal paper was so flawed, so misleading and so confusing to so many people, we thought it really would be important to dig down more deeply," Willett says.

But many researchers accept Flegal's results and see them as just the latest report illustrating what is known as the obesity paradox. Being overweight increases a person's risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many other chronic illnesses. But these studies suggest that for some people -- particularly those who are middle-aged or older, or already sick -- a bit of extra weight is not particularly harmful, and may even be helpful.

Posted by at May 22, 2013 3:42 PM
  

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