Junkfood Science: Reading in the dark will make you go blind?

July 12, 2007

Reading in the dark will make you go blind?

When the evidence is consistent and overwhelming, and the contrary evidence nonexistent, why does the media have so much trouble spitting it out?

Take the belief that our thinner twenty year old bodies are ideal throughout our lives and that the natural changes, and weight gain, that come as we grow older are all bad. Despite volumes of studies from every corner of the world showing that mortality rates among adults and seniors are lowest among those who are fat and highest among those who are thin, researchers in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Geriatric Society said the association remains controversial.

Dr. Yutaka Takata and colleagues from Kyushu Dental College in Kitakyushu City in Japan, examined 697 elderly, 80-year olds from rural, suburban and urban communities across Japan (this representative sample was more than half of the entire population of 80 year olds in 9 locations). After administering complete physicals, including laboratory tests, and weights and heights measured by medical professionals, the participants were followed for 4 years.

There was no loss in follow-up, meaning they knew exactly what happened to each of the study participants. During the four-year follow-up period, 107 died. Within this cohort:

· Overall mortality was 3.95 times as high among those who’d been thin (BMI less than 18.5) compared to fat people (“overweight” and “obese”) and 2 times as high than “normal” weight (BMI 18.5 - 24.9) people.

· Cardiovascular disease deaths were 3.45 times as high among the thin people compared to “normal” weight or fat people.

· Deaths from pneumonia were 3.59 and 3 times as high among the thin and “normal” weight people, respectively, compared to the fat people.

· And cancer mortalities were 17.69 times as high among the thin people and 7.64 times as high among “normal” weight people compared to fat people.

And lest you think these associations were because the thinner people were sick or something, the researchers said these associations were after adjusting for gender, smoking status, drinking, any weight loss in the past year, blood pressure, physical activity, marital status, preexisting disease, residence, and serum cholesterol and glucose.

In other words, said the researchers, being fat was consistently associated with longevity and a lower overall risk of dying from any cause, including cancer and heart disease — three times lower than thin people and two times lower than “normal” weight people. It would seem the natural weight gain with aging is beneficial. Regardless of beliefs that overweight people are at higher risks of getting cancers and heart disease, that didn’t play out in what people actually died from.

Overweight status in elderly is associated with longevity, the researchers concluded. “The lower mortality found in overweight individuals seems to be associated with lower mortality from cardiovascular disease and cancer,” they said.

If such stunningly higher risks of dying had been found among fat people, compared to those who are slim or a “healthy” weight, the news would no doubt be plastered across the media. But it’s the opposite, and the media is characteristically demure when reporting any favorable news about fat people.

One of the few news sources to report anything at all, Reuters Health, could only bring itself to report: “Overweight elderly don’t have higher death rates” — not that they’re actually multiple times lower!

If we cared about helping people live long, healthy lives, we would be most concerned with the evidence, rather than with what our culture currently believes is an ideal, “healthy” appearance.

Grammatical corrections 8/1/07.

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