People are encouraged to improve their health by losing weight under the assumption that as weight goes up, disease goes up. Find out how new research is questioning this assumption.
WEIGHT AND RISK OF DYING
Research has shown that people that are classified as overweight actually have lower risk of dying.
One study of 3 million people showed that the group with the lowest risk of dying from anything were those in the overweight category! In fact, risk of dying didn’t increase until “stage 2 obesity” (1). Another study of 11 thousand people showed the same result (2).
Despite this, people considered overweight are advised again and again to lose weight, even when we know that diets don’t work and place us at risk of disordered eating and weight cycling.
WEIGHT AND DISEASE
Higher weight is associated with higher risk of disease. However, we don’t know that being at higher weight CAUSES increased disease.
For example, studies have shown that being bald is associated with higher risk of heart disease. Is the heart disease caused by having a bald head? No, research was able to show that people who are bald have higher levels of testosterone, which in turn leads to heart disease.
From this we know that just because 2 things are associated, it doesnt mean that one caused the other. Below I’ve described 3 outside factors that may at least partly explain the link between obesity and disease.
1. WEIGHT CYCLING
This means losing, regaining, losing, regaining weight. It is more common among people in larger bodies because of pressure to diet. However, weight cycling in itself is linked with coronary heart disease (3). Therefore, is the higher level of disease caused by being in a larger body or caused by the weight cycling?
2. DELAYED MEDICAL APPOINTMENTS
People in larger bodies delay medical appointments because of fear of weight stigma. In one study women reported delaying attending cancer screening to avoid being weighed and getting unwanted weight loss advice (4). Is the higher risk of disease caused by the obesity or the delay in attending the doctor and thus delayed diagnosis and treatment?
3. SOCIAL CLASS
Obesity is more common in lower social classes, being in lower social class is independently associated with disease (5). So is the disease caused by obesity or by social health inequalities?
The fact is, we don’t know KNOW that obesity causes disease. And being overweight may actually protect against mortality.
We do know that dieting doesn’t work and and carries risk. We also know that we can improve health whether people lose weight or not. SO why are we still focusing on weight?
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Flegal et al, Association of All-Cause Mortality With Overweight and Obesity Using Standard Body Mass Index Categories
Orpana et al, BMI and mortality: results from a national longitudinal study of canadian adults
Rzehak et al, Weight change, weight cycling and mortality in the ERFORT Male Cohort Study
Amy et al, Barriers to routine gynecological cancer screening for White and African-American obese women.
Bird et al,The relationship between socioeconomic status/income and prevalence of diabetes and associated conditions: A cross-sectional population-based study in Saskatchewan, Canada