A number of studies are offering mixed messages about obesity. First the good news:
Adult Obesity Growth Rates Stalling
The Centers for Disease Control are reporting that women’s obesity rates have leveled off and remained steady since 1999, reports The New York Times. I’m not sure what that means in terms of all the studies that claim otherwise, but the CDC is the most official source of health data in the United States.
The obesity rate even seems to be stabilizing for men, who may have topped out in 2003. In the glass is half-empty category, researchers are dismayed that the obesity rate has not gone done. More than 72 million – one-third – of Americans adults are overweight.
Click here (pdf) for more details on the study.
Fitness Is Better Gauge of Lifespan
Confirming previous research, seniors who are fit but overweight are more likely to outlive thinner, more sedentary peers, reports U.S. News & Report. This study focuses on adults over 60 years of age.
“Cardio-respiratory fitness is a strong determinate of mortality in older men and women,” researcher Steven N. Blair, a professor at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health, tells U.S News. “Older individuals need to be concerned about their fitness level. There is perhaps too much focus on body weight, and fitness is only an afterthought.”
Now the bad news:
Overweight Expectant Moms Face Higher Death Rates
Pregnant women are more likely to die during or soon after childbirth, reports BBC News on a British study. More than half of the 295 moms that died were overweight, which put them at 4 or 5 times the risk of dying as women of normal weight.
Keep in mind, the risk of dying because of pregnancy is very low. In the United Kingdom, though, the death rate has been rising since 1985.
Childhood Obesity Increases Risk of Heart Disease
Children who were overweight from the ages of 7 to 13 were much more likely to develop heart disease between the ages of 25 and 71, reports The Washington Post. Being overweight at 13 was more risky than at 7, a study of more than 270,000 Danish children has found:
For example, a 4-foot-1-inch boy who weighed about 61 pounds at age 7 faced a 12 percent increased risk of developing heart disease between the ages of 25 and 71, compared with a similar boy who was at the normal weight of about 52 pounds.
The greatest increased risk, however, was for the heaviest older children, the researchers found.
For example, a 5-foot-1-inch boy who weighed 121 pounds at age 13 had a 34 percent greater risk compared with a boy of the same height and age who had a normal weight of 96 1/2 pounds. The risk was 51 percent higher if the boy weighed 132 1/2 pounds.
The risk did not decline even if these children slimmed down as adults.
“This is incredibly important,” Jennifer L. Baker, who led the research, tells the Post. “This is the first study to convincingly show that excess childhood weight is associated with heart disease in adulthood, or with any significant health problem in adulthood.”
By using this data and applying it to U.S. statistics, the researchers forecast an additional 100,000 American deaths by 2035.
“The epidemic of childhood obesity is not a cosmetic problem,” writes David S. Ludwig of Harvard Medical School. “It can have profound long-term consequences for adult illness and death.”
Despite all these studies, let me reiterate something: Obesity is an indicator that something is wrong with a child’s health, whether it be lack of exercise or poor nutrition. As the fitness study shows, obesity is not a foolproof indicator.
In fact, poor nutrition coupled with slimness has repeatedly been shown to be more dangerous overall in adults. But children are different. As the last study shows, obesity might be an indicator in-of-itself as to whether a child’s health is endangered.
That said, I believe obesity should not be the guiding principle for these health studies. Instead, the focus should be on nutrition, dietary toxins and physical fitness levels.