Everyone knows that fat people are unhealthy. It’s so well-accepted that few people even question it. We “know” that obesity causes all sorts of health issues, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a whole host of other problems that cost us individually and as a society in many different ways. But what if much of what we “know” is wrong, and obesity is a concurrent symptom of these other diseases rather than the cause of them? A raft of recent research appears to suggest that in fact, fitness is the key to health, not weight. A critical reading of many studies that seem to support the idea that losing weight makes you healthier shows that it’s not exactly true. For example:
Losing Even a Little Bit of Weight Reduces Diabetes Risk
This was the landmark banner headline from the American Diabetes Association a few years ago. A large-scale study found that people who lost as little as 10 percent of their body weight greatly reduced their risks of developing diabetes. Those who already had diabetes found that the progress of the disease was slowed, arrested and even, in some cases, reversed. The interesting fact that got left out of the studies was that those who tried to lose weight by increasing their physical activity and eating a healthier diet saw the same benefits — even if they failed to lose weight. That fact suggests that both obesity and diabetes stem from the same cause — a lack of fitness, not too much weight.
People Who Lose Weight Live Longer
A CDC study examined more than 6,400 overweight and obese adults. They found that those who tried to lose weight and succeeded lived longer. They also found that those who tried to lose weight but didn’t also lived longer. The reason seems to be that they made lifestyle changes, such as eating healthier and becoming more active. The benefits come from being more physically active, not from losing weight.
Diets Don’t Work
It’s not exactly old news that diets don’t work. We’ve known for a long time that going on a short-term diet to lose weight doesn’t often lead to long-term weight loss. In fact, the opposite seems to be true: the more you diet, the harder it gets to lose weight. But it’s not just diets that don’t work. In fact, weight loss as a method of improving your health doesn’t work. There’s very little evidence that people who weigh less live longer, and a lot of evidence for the exact opposite. Multiple studies have show that people who weigh more are less likely to have high osteoporosis, less likely to suffer from high blood pressure and have a lower risk of breast cancer — as long as the degree of obesity is moderate.
Negative Body Images Cause Harm
We are a world obsessed with thinness. The media constantly bombards us with images of thin people, holding them up as the ideal of fitness and beauty. Young men and women — and increasingly children and older adults — absorb these messages and compare themselves negatively to the ideal. As a result, the incidence of eating disorders has grown exponentially over the past few decades. In many very real ways, trying to be thin is hurting us and making us unhealthy.
Fitness Not Fatness
As the research continues to pour in, it appears more and more likely that the key to health is not your weight, but your degree of fitness. Instead of trying to lose weight, experts now suggest, focus more on increasing your physical activity and providing your body with the nutrients it needs for optimal health. In short, it’s the same advice the best doctors have always given: eat a healthy diet and shoot for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity 3-5 times a week.