It takes all kinds.
People can (and will) believe just about anything they put their feelings to. From the criminally tragic, such as Holocaust Deniers, to the hopeful yet silly – that Elvis Presley is still alive and living in Ottawa running a nightclub, there is no shortage of conspiracy theories or reality-free propositions available for one to latch onto.
Consider the “obesity paradox.”
In a nutshell, the concept promotes the notion that being at one’s ideal weight is unnecessary. Actually, it goes beyond that and says that — based on studies — people who are classified as overweight (or even moderately obese) seem to have better health and mortality outcomes than “normal” or “thin” folks.
The concept is controversial (ya think?) but its foundation lies in the hypothesis that extra pounds might actually help defend one’s health, especially when it comes to certain chronic conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, and high blood pressure. The “paradox” was first floated in 2003, where researchers were puzzled by the fact that heavier patients suffering from heart failure seemed to do better than their thinner counterparts. So, two plus two became five and it was deduced that having extra weight might actually be good for you.
There’s an old adage about data: “Figures don’t lie; liars figure.”
“The problem” says Andrew Stokes, a professor at Boston University who studies the obesity paradox, “is there is compelling evidence that the obesity paradox is not a real biological finding at all but just sloppy science” due to the fact that its proponents study people’s weights at a point in time instead of across their lifetimes. As explanation, that would be like comparing two groups: smokers who had stopped their habit last week because they were suffering from its effects, to smokers who had yet to quit but were lacking any ill effects. Classifying the first group as “non smokers” and the second as “smokers” would certainly lead to the conclusion that “non smokers” have poorer health than “smokers.” In the weight loss instance, not classifying people correctly could have a similar effect.
In defense of the paradox, some have pointed out that studies have shown an increased risk of death in not only society’s heaviest people, but also in its slimmest. To that, Frank Sacks, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, points out that skinny men and women might have “other co-morbidities, other problems, and bad habits” such as being so thin due to other health problems. Therefore, it’s not that being thin is the cause of health problems, but the other way around — they’re so skinny due to the health problems that plague them, which — in the end — are the cause of death. Again for comparison, if one steps outside and notices that whenever the sidewalk is wet that it’s raining, citing a 100 percent correlation between the two, he or she could wrongly assume that wet sidewalks cause rain instead of what actually happens.
Indeed, in another recent study, Stokes and a colleague examined data from more than 30,000 participants over two-plus decades and found that when one controlled for weight history and removed other health factors found that any benefit that might or might not be derived from carrying extra fat is outweighed (no pun intended) when stacked up against the harms of obesity, and “overweight and obesity become significantly positively related to risk of death.”
When one controls for real-life factors, it appears that the obesity paradox — like so many pounds at a weight loss support group — vanishes.
About the author: Scott “Q” Marcus is a nationally known weight loss expert for baby boomers and the CRP (Chief Recovering Perfectionist) of www.ThisTimeIMeanIt.com. He is available for coaching and speaking. Watch for his new book, “The Busy Baby Boomers Motivational Guide to Weight Loss” coming in December of 2015.