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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Do they really know what they're looking at?

There have been a large number of articles recently, talking about the obesity "epidemic." I guess the newest numbers just got published or something, so everyone's writing about it.

A typical example of how these articles sound is this one.

The report, titled F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing America, 2006 said that an estimated two-thirds of American adults are clinically obese. This means that their risk of suffering from fatal diseases such as diabetes, stroke and cancer increases exponentially.

Another article from the UK talked about a proposed ban of IVF treatment for fat women. On and on it goes.

One of the things these articles all seem to have in common is the believe that obesity is the cause of all these deadly illnesses. You'd think that skinny people never got strokes, type 2 diabetes, cancer or heart attacks.

For anyone who's read some of my past posts, you already know what I think of the BMI and that I feel the numbers of overweight and obese are flawed because of it. This time, however, I want to discuss what I feel is a false belief that extra weight, in and of itself, increases the risk of various illness.

I'm going to use type 2 diabetes as an example. The main reason is the implication that people who are obese will get type 2 diabetes, eventually, because they are fat, even though the terms "increases the risk" are actually used. No one says, "you eat lost of high-GI foods, therefore you are at greater risk of getting diabetes." No, they say "you're fat, you're increasing the risk." The fact that high-GI foods also tend to make people gain weight just doesn't seem to be a connection anyone makes.

But lets take it a bit further. When a person is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, one of the first things they're told to do is loose weight (even when the person is already within "normal" weight ranges!!). While I absolutely recognize that diet and exercise is vital to controlling insulin levels, I feel this focus on weight is misplaced.

I've long been interested in health and nutrition, and I recall on case in particular (unfortunately, I no longer remember where I read about it), involving an Australian aborigine. Type 2 diabetes is a major problem among the aborigine population, much as it is among Canada's first nations. When I hotel I worked at took in flood evacuees from a nearby reserves senior home, I had to work with a list of all the evacuees that included their medical needs, including their diet restrictions. I'd say about 95% or more of them had type 2 diabetes. There were, however, very few overweight, never mind obese, elders. In fact, I only remember one that could be callled obese, and he was actually a young man in a wheel chair. He also had only one arm. The other arm and both legs were amputated at the knees and elbow. He wasn't all that large, but large enough to be considered obese. He didn't have diabetes.

So back to the Australian. He lived in a city and lived a typical city lifestyle. Working closely with his doctor, he tried to control his diabetes through diet and exercise. It wasn't working. He agreed to try an experiment. He left the city to live in the bush, just as his ancestors did. He ate traditional foods and lived in the same manner. When compared to his city lifestyle, he actually ate more and exercised less than when in the city.

His diabetes virtually disappeared.

I don't recall his weight every being part of the story, so I have no idea if he were overweight or not.

It seems, however, the when aboriginal peoples adopt a European diet and lifestyle, they seem to sacrifice their health in the process. Somehow, their bodies don't seem able to deal with the changes. Perhaps, after a few hundres years, those differences will disappear. I doubt anyone would ever study this, though, as it would probably be considerred racist.

I happen to believe that our genetic background plays a big part of how our bodies handle different foods. It makes sense to me that if one group lived in an area that was cold, with short summers and harsh winters, for hundreds of generations, their bodies will adapt to what's available in that area, and will be different from another group that lived in an area that's hot all year, and has completely different local foods. I also believe that, eventually, as our world becomes more hemogenous, foods from all over the world become more easily available to all, and the racial bloodlines continue to mix together, these differences will disappear. I think we, as a species, will grow strong for it. Until then, however, we're going to have challenges, and that includes segments of population that will be more prone to certain health problems than others.

It is for this reason that I believe there is no one solution for all, especially when it comes to things like weight and the supposed health problems that are "caused" by excess weight. Some people swear that a low-fat, high carb diet is the healthiest way to go. Others say a low-carb, high protein diet is the solution to all our health problems. Some say no red meat, or just fish. Others say no meat at all, and still others say lots of meat, but no grains.

I say they're all wrong. And they're all right. The right "diet" for me is not necessarily going to be the right "diet" for someone else. There's no one-size-fits-all solution.

But how can you study that?

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting analysis! Thanks for writing it.


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