Yes, being overweight is generally part of being unhealthy, and especially in the more affluent countries more people are overweight than ever. Also, overweight people are more likely to be obese than ever before. But in spite of society’s ridiculous obsession with appearance (really- grow up shallow people of the world! Fat shaming is OK? How about we start non-critical thinking shaming?), focussing on weight loss is not how we will make society healthier.
Many (perhaps most) obese people are obese in spite of losing massive amounts of weight. You can lose weight on nearly any “diet”, but keeping it off is nearly impossible. Usually people gain back much more than they lost. After a few rounds of that game, obesity is the result. The process of dieting and gaining itself can cause harm to the body and lead to poorer health, due to stress and nutrient imbalance. Also, so many slimming diets are unhealthy themselves. So, lets look at the actual health facts:
According to the World Health Organization, (WHO) the top ten killers in affluent countries today are ischaemic and hypertensive heart diseases, stroke, lung, colon and breast cancers, COPD, infections, dementias and diabetes. Nearly all of these are correlated to obesity, and here is where the faulty thinking comes in. Because there is a correlation between obesity and these diseases, many people infer that obesity can cause the diseases, and the aim therefore becomes losing weight (there is a stock phrase to call out this logical error- “correlation does not imply causation”).This idea of causation is reinforced and compounded by the continual talk of the “obesity epidemic”, as though obesity is an illness itself.
But here is the reality of the situation. The causes of death mentioned by the WHO are linked directly to unhealthy diet, just as obesity is linked to an unhealthy diet. In fact, it is poor diet that (in part-see note below*) causes BOTH the diseases and obesity. Why is that distinction important? Well, let’s suppose that I develop a new slimming “bacon fat” diet that is phenomenally successful. Imagine I have created a pill that works with bacon to melt the pounds away. A diet made in heaven, some would think- eat bacon at every meal and obesity can be cured- everyone could be as slim as they want. But would we also expect the rates of diabetes and heart disease to plummet? Of course not, because for one thing, we would be increasing blood cholesterol levels and arterial plaque. The result would be skinny unhealthy people. So it is not being fat that makes our society unhealthy, but being unhealthy can make us a fatter society.
Those of us who have spent years battling our weight have heard it so many times- in order to lose weight we should eat fewer calories, and then we can be skinny and healthy. I believe a change of perspective would lead to much more success. If the (truly) healthy diet can become society’s obsession rather than the reduced calorie diet, weight loss will happen as a byproduct. Then the focus will change from how much we eat to what we eat and we will feel better and enjoy better health as we simultaneously find the weight we are comfortable at.
Next post I will talk about the easy way to make choices for a healthy diet.
*Note. I would NEVER believe or want to imply that people are to blame for causing their own diseases (that would make me guilty of the same fallacy I have mentioned above!). There are many other elements besides diet that also interact to cause disease, and so many of those are out of people’s control. I would never presume to guess which of the many things combined to result in an individual’s illness. However, there is plenty of research to show that a good diet can significantly reduce our chances of suffering from the illnesses of affluence, and that is what I am talking about.