On Wednesday, CNN reporter Lisa O’Neill Hill wrote the piece, “Thin is in, but fat might be better,” after the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that being overweight (not obese, but certainly heavier than the quote on quote average) can lead to a longer life. Now, I may be slightly bias — it’s my nature to trust most things that CNN reporters cover as opposed to…well, let’s just say other news channels. So although the JAMA report itself caused much controversy, I’m inclined to accept O’Neill Hill’s take on it. It seems to me she did her job of reporting on the facts and telling us what the report itself said.
After performing 100 studies that included more than 2.8 million people, JAMA concluded that overweight people had a 6 percent lower risk of death than those of “normal” weight. Now, I’m not exactly sure what normal weight means, and it’s the only term she refers to that gets my skin crawling. This is perhaps because the concept of normality is one I take issue with in and of itself. I’m never sure just what people mean by “normal,” but more often than not I can’t help but feel it’s not something I’d like to be any part of. In the case of weight, I’m assuming she means normal in the sense of what those silly little charts tell you you should weigh — those charts that don’t take anything into account, such as factors of genetics or bone structure or diet. According to such charts, I should ideally weigh about 150 pounds at 5’10″…but I remember weighing that during one of my dieting mishaps in high school, and I most definitely was not at all pleased with my body. I hate those charts.
Sorry, myself aside. The point is that the study ultimately concluded that being overweight might be better. When you think about this logically, it does make sense. One of the supporters of the JAMA report, Kamyar Kalantar-Zadeh, a professor of medicine and public health at the University of California, Irvine, pointed out that “Body-stored fat has helped us for hundreds of thousands of years to survive hardships. That should tell us evolutionarily there was something good in that.” Now, I’m not exceptionally scientific, but there doesn’t seem to be anything debatable about his reasoning. Without body-fat, those people hundreds of thousands of years ago wouldn’t have survived terribly cold climates. Our evolution just wouldn’t have been able to happen — or at least, not in the way that it did. He goes on to say, “Once you are in your 70s, 80s or 90s, or if you have chronic disease like heart failure, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic lung and kidney disease, a larger body size gives you longevity.”
Ultimately, I don’t often buy into reports on “healthy weight” or anything that says, “this is what you need to do to live a longer life.” My thoughts are more along the lines that living a healthy and happy life constitutes allowing ourselves to do the things we want, eat the things we want, and look the way we want — because in the end, what could possibly prolong our lives more than truly being happy living them? But I do find the report interesting simply because it is backed up with science and facts. So often when you hear this idea that, “skinny is good, fat is bad,” it isn’t followed by much actual evidence. Regardless, I don’t think it’s about being skinny or fat or “normal.” I don’t think being any of these things is the key to prolonged mortality, though then again I think contemplating our mortality based upon weight isn’t wise to begin with. To me, there are far more important things to worry about. There are far more important things I want to revolve my life around rather than a number someone somewhere with a test tube or a measuring tape has decided is the right number for me.
The fact is, some people are happy being thin. Some people are happy being overweight. And some are happy being fat. You can go around saying all of these are bad or good, but it’s such a personal thing, isn’t it? No one can determine what is good for you — certainly no medical journal or scientist who has never met you and doesn’t know anything about your body or yourself. In the end, we have to decide for ourselves. It can’t be about what other people think is healthy for us. It can’t be about what other people want us to look like. It has to be about what we as individuals want. I’ve been skinny and I’ve been overweight, and I can say truthfully I am much happier now with my size 16 bottom than I ever way with the size 6 one. But it isn’t really about the number. It’s about the psyche. When I started focusing more on the things that actually made me happy as opposed to those I thought would make others happy, the number kind of stopped mattering. And ironically, I think the change in mentality led to a positive change in the physicality — because I definitely think the better you feel in your head space, the better you will look and feel aesthetically.