Put down that celery stick and relax

You probably made a New Year’s resolution to shed some extra pounds in 2013. Well, put down those carrot and celery sticks. Here comes a new study from the CDC National Center for Health Statistics. One that’s ruffled so many feathers, it’s making headlines everywhere–from health journals to the nightly news.

It may be surprising to some self-styled “experts” and it may make weight-loss gurus cringe…but it should really come as no surprise to those who have been listening to the real science. Real science is always worth listening to…

The new study–published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)–shows that obesity does increase the risk of dying. And it certainly shortens longevity. But being slightly overweight may actually help. It increases longevity.  

Researchers uncovered this trend by analyzing data for nearly 3 million people among nearly 100 different countries around the world. And here’s what the numbers show…

Compared with normal weight people, overweight people had a six percent lower risk of death.

Plus, a closer look at the obesity figures may surprise you…

Overall, obese people had an 18 percent higher risk of death. But among those classified as only slightly obese, the risk of death was five percent lower than for normal weight people. The real danger comes from being severely obese. For those men and women, the risk of death was nearly 30 percent higher. 

While the findings surprised investigators, it did not surprise me. There is not a “dose-response” relationship between body weight and morality. It is more like a “J-shaped” curve of weight vs. mortality.

In other words…

Men and women with body weights that are too low or too high have increased mortality rates. On the other hand, men and women with moderately increased body weight have mortality rates that fall in the happy middle.

Moderation in all things…  

Maybe the nanny-state government will begin to rethink its expensive and ineffective “wars” on salt, fats, tobacco, alcohol, soft drinks, and body weight.

Perhaps those with the same mindset as Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York will realize while extreme excesses in dietary consumption and weight are harmful, they do not universally harm those who practice moderation. It’s high time we treat people like adults. And allow some discretion in lieu of abolitionism, prohibitionism, extortion, and ostracism. 

First, the government-medical establishment was shocked to learn that moderate alcohol consumption is healthier than abstinence. It also ignores the science showing that light to moderate smoking is not necessarily harmful. I’m talking about smoking less than half a pack a day of cigarettes and less than two cigars or pipes a day. Speaking of body weight, moderate smoking also helps maintain a healthier weight. I presented our original finding on this effect in the Insiders’ special report The Day Science Went Up in Smoke.

Statistically speaking, this new healthy weight finding shouldn’t come as a total surprise. Back in the 1970s, the classic study on three-quarters of a million people by Lew & Garfinkel first showed the J-shaped curve regarding mortality and body weight.

When I worked at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), we always accounted for the fact that some people had low body weight because they were already sick. Of course, these folks would also have higher mortality and decreased longevity. 

I developed techniques to measure body composition more accurately–beyond straight body weight. We used body mass indices and anthropometric measurements. These tools proved to be far more accurate at predicting health effects than just body weight alone.

However, here is the problem…

The only professionals trained in anthropometry are biologists and anthropologists. Physicians today aren’t trained in these simple and inexpensive techniques. Physicians look at one number–your weight.

The new study’s lead author, Dr. Katherine Flegal, believes that people with a medical condition who carry a few extra pounds might have an advantage. In the CDC report, Dr. Flegal suggests, “Fat itself may be in some way protective, or someone who is heavier might be more resilient and better able to stand a shock to their system.” 

Maybe overweight people receive better medical care in general. They are so scared to death (not quite) about being overweight, they get to the doctor sooner, or more often. Of course, this assumes that more medical intervention actually does them good

In addition…

Their doctors are also scared. Doctors worry about medical liability and the welfare of their heavier patients.  Doctors may be more likely to treat these “high risk,” heavier patients according to optimal guidelines.

Here again, I’m not convinced that doctors should always follow these medical practice guidelines to a tee. For instance, some of these guidelines have become so narrow and specialized that they cause more harm than good. We reported questions regarding narrow medical practice guidelines in the Dispatch,  The hidden cost of following the rules.”

From an evolutionary standpoint, fat tissue helps protect the body. It makes the body more resilient to changes in the environment–like providing metabolic reserves, insulation and, literally, padding. Certainly, in my experience as a Medical Examiner, fat helps protect people from traumatic injuries. It also protects them from hypothermia, drowning and environmental exposures. These dangers and injuries would have been commonplace in early human populations.

Body fat also helps people survive during a famine. Or on long ocean voyages. Some anthropologists suggest this is why men and women from Polynesian populations in Hawaii, Samoa, and New Zealand (Maori), for example, tend to carry excess weight.

All things considered, you can certainly make the case that we should redefine what it means to be overweight.   

According to Dr. David Katz, the director of the Yale University Medical School Prevention Research Center, “If weight is not harmful to health, there is no reason to suggest otherwise.” Katz also noted that “rates of overweight and obesity overall appear to be stabilizing, while rates of severe obesity are rising briskly.”

This study suggests that being just a little overweight and remaining so might offer health advantages. The real danger is moving from slightly overweight to severely obese. This, Dr. Katz points out, still “is a serious peril and many in the population are doing exactly that.” 

“By clarifying the thresholds at which weight poses a threat of premature death, this study invites us to concentrate our efforts there,” he said.


And maybe the government can direct its efforts to those extreme cases.  And leave the rest of us alone with their collectivist, politically correct restrictions and confiscatory taxes on everything. What’s so bad about eating, drinking, and being merry. And not just for 10 days at the holidays, but all the time?

Apparently, not being able to shed those few extra pounds is only a hazard to cosmetic surgeons and to the largely factitious and widely fraudulent weight loss industry. Just ask our friends at the Federal Trade Commission what is the number one offender in false advertising claims. 

For guidelines on how to eat well all the time, and lose weight when you want to, read my special report called The “Top-of-the-Food-Chain” Cure for Obesity.  And learn to eat like you are on the top of the world! 

Also: William Shakespeare showed an intuitive understanding of healthy weight in his great play Julius Caesar. In Act I, Caesar says, “Let me have men about me that are fat; sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights. Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much: such men are dangerous.” Of course, Cassius eventually convinces Marcus Brutus and others to stab Caesar in the back. It’s not the first time a government leader has been stabbed in the back by his subordinates; nor the first time that one has advised his government subordinates not to think too much in the first place.

1. Flegal KM, Kit BK, Orpana H, Graubard BI. JAMA. 2013 Jan 2;309(1):71-82. doi: 10.1001/jama.2012.113905. Review.

2. Journal of Chronic Diseases 32: 563-576