Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Retirement News - Fat Is Good, Sometimes

At last, some news that actually puts a spring in my retirement step. A recent study written up in York University’s Faculty of Health News blog shows that, under certain conditions, people who are obese are actually less likely to die of cardiovascular causes than skinny folks.

The study was conducted by a team of mostly Canadian scientists over a 16-year period and was published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism. The team compared the mortality risk of 6,000 obese Americans with that of lean subjects. Although not stated in the summary, one assumes the lean ones were also Americans, though I’m not sure that would have made a huge difference.

Here’s the catch. The chubby folks had to already be a tad overweight as young adults and had to have been less obsessed with losing weight than the lean folks. That is, they would have tried less often throughout their lives to lose weight.

The pleasingly plump also had to have no serious “physical, psychological or physiological impairments.” I did not dig deeply enough to get the details on what impairments made this list. In my experience, the Canadians have a much higher tolerance than Americans for non-conforming behavior, so I’d probably clear the hurdle on this one.

Apparently, being content with ones body, even if it was carrying a few more pounds than ideal, meant that these subjects were likely to have a healthy lifestyle. They were physically active and ate healthy food (though probably too much of it.) That combination of activity and a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables seems to lead to healthier hearts than yo-yo dieting.

I’ve been on more than an occasional diet throughout my life, but I can’t say that I fall into the yo-yo category. I was more of a “special occasion” dieter. You know, upcoming vacation to a Club Med, good friend’s wedding, high school or college reunion. By the time I reached my forties it was more like “important job interview.” You can imagine how rare those were as I got older.

Moving on to one of my favorite medical subtopics, acronyms—the researchers for this study used (and I quote) “a new grading tool, the Edmonton Obesity Staging System (EOSS.)” This new tool was developed at the University of Alberta and has been shown to be more accurate than the more widely known and enormously popular BMI (Body Mass Index) in targeting folks who need to lose weight.

For those not familiar with the BMI, here’s a layman’s description of how it works. You fill a bathtub to the brim with water and plop your body into it. If the water that overflows takes more rolls of paper towels to mop it up than you got on sale at Costco last month, you’re probably too fat. Likewise, if you float when you get into the tub, you should think about toning up.

BMI is also sometimes shortened to the catchy “pinch an inch” criteria, meaning that if you can pinch more than an inch of fat anywhere on your body, your B has too much M. (Or as my internist would so tactfully put it, “There’s too much of you.”) Personally, I think that the fat under one’s neck should be excluded from the pinch test for those over 60. Also upper arms for women over 55.

The EOSS incorporates the BMI, waist-to-hip ratio and some clinical measures of obesity-related medical conditions (such as hypertension and diabetes.) High blood pressure runs in my family, and it caught up with me years ago, so I’m not sure how I would fare with the new grading tool. I figure I can’t do any worse than I would with the old one, even disallowing my neck wattle and arm flaps.

The EOSS classifies five stages of obesity. The blog report does not itemize these, but after considerable digging, I’ve uncovered all five. If you recognize yourself as number three or higher, you need to lose weight even on the new EOSS scale. The five stages are (from least obese to most:)
1.     I bet everyone pinched your cheeks when you were a baby.
2.     Did you forget your Spanx, or is that a seriously out of control muffin top?
3.     This little piggy went to market, but apparently this little piggy forgot to go home.
4.     Jiggle, jiggle, wiggle, wiggle. Is there any part of you that doesn’t shake when you walk? And the highest level:
5.     EOSS, BMI—YAHO (Forget how we measured it—You Are Hopelessly Obese.)

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