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January 04, 2013

Hey, Maybe Being Fat Is Good For You

I want to run this article with a picture, but if I ran it with this picture, people would scream for eyebleach. So, pretend this picture appears right under the headline, and note before you click it you're going to see a very fat man. A very fat man.

He was the world's fattest man, but got a gastric bypass, and now he just looks awesome.

Anyway I've been hearing this story going around for a week: a meta-study finds that overweight people actually live longer than those at normal weight. And one level of people defined as "obese" -- lower end of the scale -- have no worse mortality than the normal-weight.


Grade 1 obesity overall was not associated with higher mortality, and overweight was associated with significantly lower all-cause mortality. The use of predefined standard BMI groupings can facilitate between-study comparisons.

Grade 2 and 3 obesity -- really fat and really fatter -- were, however, associated with worse mortality rates.

So, it's claimed, a little bit of comfort fat might be good for you, long-term.

Hey, it's a study. Must be true.

Here's a possibility: Given that we are generally never put through periods of starvation or hunger and have all the calories we could possibly want, our bodyweight has shifted upwards -- including our tendency to put on fat. Because we're just not built to have all the calories we could possibly want.

The people who remain thin tend to remain thin not because they're especially healthy but because they're a little on the unhealthy side, while the people who would -- in prehistoric times -- look healthy have tended to put on a bit of overweight.

Note that some very healthy and very active people are at "normal weight" -- they work out enough to keep off fat -- or thin but they're anomalies and don't impact the stats that much. Most people will wind up having weights in accordance with their metabolic bias.

So, anyway, my attempt to explain this postulates that it's not the overweight per se that makes people live longer, but those people are basically born a little healthier, and would have longer lives whether they were in prehistoric, lean times (in which case they'd be at the "right" weight) or in comfortable, flabby modern times (in which case they add 15 pounds).

I just made that up now. If it doesn't make sense, that would be why.

The other possibility is the Sleeper Hypothesis: That literally everything they once said was good for you is in fact bad for you, and vice versa.

There's also the possibility fact that there is a built-in bias in science to find positive results -- publish or perish -- and especially to overturn previous wisdom in a particularly dazzling way, so we might just be seeing imperfect science, made by imperfect humans, claiming to know things where we actually know little and periodically going through "revolutions" in thinking, not because we've made such great strides in our knowledge, but because our knowledge was so very limited in the first place it's relatively easy to postulate the complete opposite of the Old Theory and soon have a big glittering New Theory with just the same amount of (thin) evidence.

Old Theory: Carbs cause fat

Newer Theory: Carbs don't cause fat at all! Those old fuddy-duddies were all wet!

Newest Theory: Carbs cause fat. The last fuddy-duddies were all wet, while the fuddy-duddies previous to them had it just right.

When no one knows what the hell they're talking about it's a wide open field for paradigm-changing new studies.


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posted by Ace at 06:30 PM

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