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"I'm fat but healthy!" Not for long, you aren't.
May 12, 2004 11:11 AM   Subscribe

Scientists know that being fat reduces your lifespan, making you more susceptible to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a host of other bad things. However they are only beginning to understand why. "Fat tissue is now recognized to be the body's biggest endocrine organ," producing 25 known signaling compounds and a variety of proteins.
posted by ilsa (37 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
I'm wondering how this affects the changes people make by going from fat to not-as-fat. As a former massive person, its curious how something like this would affect me.

I am relatively young, but was fat for almost my whole life, from as a young child, up until recently. So would these chemicals eventually leave my body, or do they stay. And is the damage done? (Not that I want to get fat again, I'm just asking.)
posted by benjh at 11:24 AM on May 12, 2004


Wonder how Paul Campos would respond?
posted by Gyan at 11:30 AM on May 12, 2004


From that article:

"There is now conclusive evidence that obesity causes some cancers and strong evidence that it contributes to a wide variety of others," says Dr. Michael Thun, epidemiology chief at the American Cancer Society.

However, the American Cancer Society's efforts to link fat and cancer are funded by Weight Watchers. Whoops!:

The society's effort is being funded by the Weight Watchers diet program, which will promote the cancer group's program at its centers. Other business sponsors may be added for future Weigh Ins.
posted by hijinx at 11:43 AM on May 12, 2004


Being overfat != being "overweight" by BMI standards, and vice versa.

Being within "ideal" BMI standards also does not necessarily mean that one isn't overfat.

Hence, Steven Blair's contention that regular exercise is a far more reliable indicator of health than simple body mass continues to seem very wise to me.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:45 AM on May 12, 2004


Also from the article: Among other things, obese people are more prone to depression, gallstones, even dying when in car accidents.

The car accidents one was a study that didn't explain why fat people were more prone to death, by the way. Just... they're fat, and they died.

By the way, thanks to the way stats are compiled, if you're fat and get hit by a bus and die, your death is officially due to fat.

obvpreview, Sidhedevil hit the nail on the head.
posted by hijinx at 11:48 AM on May 12, 2004


benjh ( "So would these chemicals eventually leave my body, or do they stay. And is the damage done?") - Well, chemicals produced by your endocrine system wouldn't tend to hang around forever, and fat cells are where fat-soluble molecules tend to wind up anyway (besides in your brain) and so you've done yourself a world of good by reducing your fat load - your body would have excreted some (at least) of those toxins and signalling chemicals which had built up in your fat cells.

I'm not sure that your endocrine system chemicals would have done significant damage, exactly. Our bodies use those in extremely low quantities. That's one major reason why trace levels of fat-soluble persistent organic pollutants are bad for us : they can effect our bodies in much the same way as the endocrine system signalling chemicals. They act as signals - but the wrong sort.

Caveat - I'm not a trained medical professional. In fact, I'm actually an extremely intelligent, genetically modified miniature pinscher with internet access. But why would I lie to you ?
posted by troutfishing at 11:58 AM on May 12, 2004


"There is an explosion of information about just what it is and what it does," Dr. Allen Spiegel, director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, says of fat. "It is a tremendously dynamic organ."

I'll take it as one more size of our national fattening: body fat has attained the rank of "organ".
posted by coelecanth at 12:03 PM on May 12, 2004


[Off topic],
Folks in their 30-40's, how much candy do you snack on today compared to your childhood; the same comparison, snack foods processed, baked or cooked, in oils today?
For myself today; less candy, more oil cooked snacks.

Was inspired to wonder this after watching a children's soccer match ending with the kids receiving potato chips & a drink. Other than Halloween rarely see a non parent handing out candy to the children. Also notice in the grocery story that the candy isle is shrinking while the chip isle has grown. A possibility in the obesity today compared to "back then" which may be the oils used in the cooking.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:04 PM on May 12, 2004


Dan Savage just did a column along these lines.
posted by wsg at 12:06 PM on May 12, 2004


grocery store
posted by thomcatspike at 12:07 PM on May 12, 2004


I ate all sorts of crap when I was a kid, and it didn't do me a lick of good. I've mended my ways, though, and, by golly, my kids aren't going to eat anything but steak, broccoli, and steel-cut oats. Mostly steak. And maybe a box of Choco-diles every now and again.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:14 PM on May 12, 2004


I'll tell you I sure felt a lot better when I was thinner. It *can't* just be the physical toll of carrying the weight around. (And I'm pretty fit for being fat.)
posted by callmejay at 12:23 PM on May 12, 2004


uncleozzy - that would be free-ranging steak, right ? Lean, chemical, hormone, and antibiotic-free delicious, tender free ranging steak on the hoof lightly braised with herbs and garlic, maybe, or drizzled with hot sauce and served with tender new potatoes and fresh vegetables ?
posted by troutfishing at 12:25 PM on May 12, 2004


Was inspired to wonder this after watching a children's soccer match ending with the kids receiving potato chips & a drink.
We always had an orange at half-time and a soda at the end of the game. PWSI


I seem to be developing a very unexpected sweet-tooth of late. I actually made a trip to the store the other day specifically for a box of Ding Dongs. I've put on some weight (a gut) in the last few years, sure, after being a rail for most of my life. But I'm still far from obese. But this "need" for chocolate or whatever has me curious.
posted by Witty at 12:27 PM on May 12, 2004


If I remember correctly, it's not so much that one loses fat per se, but that one's fat cells shrink in size as one loses weight by using the energy via reduced caloric intake or more exercise. As for the hormones released, one would assume that reducing fat cells would reduce their output, which would then allow the systems to recover. However, in the area of depression, it is hypothesized that continual exposure to cortisol in childhood can permanently leave one compromised, resulting in depression, so it may depend on the resiliency of the heart, circulatory system, etc.

P.S. I am also not a doctor, yet.

PPS. I am also a formerly massive person, and have noted in my own health seriously better "recovery time" in terms of heart rate, respiration, etc. after moderate to hardcore exertion.
posted by ltracey at 12:28 PM on May 12, 2004


callmejay, thanks for sharing that statistical study!

No, I apologize for the snark (sorry!), but there is a biiiiiiigggggggggggg gap between

- some people experience health problems because of overfat

- many overweight people are overfat

to

OVERWEIGHT = DEATH!!!!

I say this as someone whose weight has varied between 122 and 235 at my present height of 5'9". Sure, 235 wasn't perfect, but my health was better at that weight than it was at 122.

Focusing on simple scale weight, rather than positive lifestyle choices, is not the way to address the problem of fitness and health. US society has been obsessed with scale weight since the 1920s, and it certainly hasn't helped us become a more fit nation.

On preview--Witty, try taking a magnesium supplement. Often, chocolate cravings are an expression of a need for magnesium.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:28 PM on May 12, 2004


I think a more prevailing theory in re: cortisol and depression is that the cortisol levels produce both the abdominal fat and the neurochemical issues.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:30 PM on May 12, 2004


We always had an orange at half-time and a soda at the end of the game. PWSI
Witty, that was all we were allowed at half-time, and they had nothing other than water. The odd part is that soccer is a big club sport in Dallas, Tx.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:37 PM on May 12, 2004


I've always thought the "I'm fat but healthy" argument was a little silly. It would be like me calling myself a "healthy smoker". Well, it's true that I am healthy.. for now. That doesn't mean I shouldn't quit smoking, and that I wouldn't be healthier if I did quit.

People can make the decision to be, or remain, overweight--it's their choice, much like smoking. I just don't think anyone can justify it as their most healthy choice.
posted by Swifty at 1:45 PM on May 12, 2004


I think that obviously people who are morbidly obese are unhealthier than people who are fit and active.

Having said that, the hysteria about being "overweight" is exaggerated.

Several clinical studies have shown, for example, that all-cause morbidity and mortality is lowest among people whose BMI is between 25 and 28, which is considered "overweight".

Individual fitness is a far better predictor of health than arbitrary indicia.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:01 PM on May 12, 2004


I'm lean and depressive. Cortisol....hmmm.
posted by troutfishing at 2:09 PM on May 12, 2004


Wait a minute, Sidhedevil.

I think that obviously people who are morbidly obese are unhealthier than people who are fit and active.

and

Individual fitness is a far better predictor of health than arbitrary indicia.

...But you're presuming that "morbidly obese" precludes one from being active, which it does not. The term "morbidly obese" conjures up this image in many peoples' minds of a very fat person, so fat he or she can not move. This is not the case, especially when the BMI - the prevaling 'measurement' for fat - is so flawed that Tom Cruise is considered obese.

If you're talking about inactive people, you need to say "inactive people," not "morbidly obese," which leaves the inference of inactivity up to the reader - unless the author goes ahead and implies it, too.
posted by hijinx at 2:28 PM on May 12, 2004


hijinx, it doesn't matter that bmi is sometimes silly. all that matters is that there's a strong correlation between bmi and body fat. if that correlation exists then bmi is a perfectly valid thing to use in statistical studies.

and the fact is, there is a strong correlation. extremely muscular, low fat people are the exception. that's why they are film stars and body builders, and not me or you.

sorry, but that's statistics for you.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:53 PM on May 12, 2004


hijinx: Fine, for clarity's sake, would you prefer he just says "lazy, fat people" instead?

So it turns out if you're super bulky with muscles you'll end up being categorized as "obese" by the BMI. News flash for you: This isn't a news flash! These are the overwhelming exceptions, and not the rule.

The term "morbidly obese" conjurs up images of fat people who are not active and maybe can't move--a point you even say yourself. Which, kind of makes me think Sidhedevil is using the term appropriately, since everyone but you will likely understand what he means without having to go the extra mile and likewise say inactive.

Frankly, it seems you're just splitting hairs so you could link to the "Since Tom Cruise is considered obese, BMI must be wrong and obesity must be great!" article.
posted by Swifty at 2:56 PM on May 12, 2004


Studies show that 100% of people that breathe die.
posted by moonbiter at 3:26 PM on May 12, 2004


No, "morbidly obese" means "weighing 50-100% more than ideal weight range". It has a very specific clinical meaning.

Tom Cruise is not considered "obese" by anyone--where did you get that non-fact?
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:45 PM on May 12, 2004


Tom Cruise doesn't weigh 201 pounds. Where did the person who wrote that article get that information? Of course you can say that anyone's "obese" if you make up a really high weight for them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:47 PM on May 12, 2004


Sorry to keep reposting, but I see that there actually are some sites on the Interweb that say that Cruise weighs 201 pounds. There are also sites on the Interweb that say he is 5'9"; and there is one that says that he's an evil space alien (I am not making the last one up).

Then there are sites that say he is 5'7" and 170, or 5'9" and 170.

I have seen Mr. Cruise in person, and he is not 5'9", nor does he weigh 201 pounds. To base an argument on "statistics" made up by random Websites seems like the height of time-wasting.

However, if he is an evil space alien, that would explain a lot.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:53 PM on May 12, 2004


Oh, well, of course if Tom Cruise is an evil space alien, human rules about weight and BMI wouldn't apply. That just stands to reason.
posted by ilsa at 4:30 PM on May 12, 2004


The first real inkling that fat is more than just inert blubber was the discovery 10 years ago of the substance leptin. Scientists were amazed to find that this static-looking flesh helps maintain itself by producing a chemical that regulates appetite.

Leptin just sounds like a horrible parasite... get enough fat cells that your body produces it, and you're going to have a rough time trimming down.
posted by Darke at 7:28 PM on May 12, 2004


I've always thought the "I'm fat but healthy" argument was a little silly. It would be like me calling myself a "healthy smoker". Well, it's true that I am healthy.. for now. That doesn't mean I shouldn't quit smoking, and that I wouldn't be healthier if I did quit.

Rationality won't get you far with this crowd, pal!
posted by rushmc at 7:51 PM on May 12, 2004


Ok, how about a variant on "I'm fat but healthy" -- "I'm fat, but the measures I would take to lose weight would have a more negative impact on my health than simply carrying the excess." A number of studies show that yo-yo dieting can be worse for you than maintaining a *moderate* overweight.

Not, by the way, that that statement applies to me. I'm fat, I fully admit it, and I'm working on it.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:25 AM on May 13, 2004


A critical reading of this article reveals it to be a stew of unsupported bushwah in the worst tradition of breathless, hysterical medical-scientific writing for the lay public. Its assertions boil down to the fact that scientists now know that fat is not inert, but that it influences other organs in ways not understood, by means not fully understood. That's it. Nothing is offered in the way of proof of any suggestions beyond that. Nothing is offered to show that fat influences other organs in a negative fashion -- it just assumes that the affect is negative. "Wired" falls somewhere in between the National Enquirer and "Amazing Stories" in credibilty.
posted by Faze at 7:19 AM on May 13, 2004


andrew: sorry, but that's statistics for you.

Yes, and statistics can easily lie.

To base an argument on "statistics" made up by random Websites [sic] seems like the height of time-wasting.

But you'll accept "statistics" funded covertly by the diet industry, hm? Why?

Swifty: Fine, for clarity's sake, would you prefer he just says "lazy, fat people" instead?

Frankly? Yes. That quantifies that he's talking about lazy people (which includes fat and thin) and fat people (which is just a descriptor.)

Which, kind of makes me think Sidhedevil is using the term appropriately, since everyone but you will likely understand what he means without having to go the extra mile and likewise say inactive.

Emphasis mine above. And thanks for the shout-out; I had no idea I was the only person on earth who didn't automatically associate fat with inactivity! I'll have to tell that to Marilyn Wann and Paul Campos. That'll be a news flash.

My point isn't splitting hairs to link to the Tom Cruise obesity article. My point with that is, simply, that the definition of "obese" is horrendously flawed. The BMI is horrendously flawed. Which leads me back to Sidhedevil's comment:

Tom Cruise is not considered "obese" by anyone--where did you get that non-fact [sic]?

Proving that while Cruise isn't "obese" by "anyone's" standards, he is technically obese.

But I guess we'll have to make exceptions for the "morbidly obese," who aren't terribly far off from Tom Cruise's weight, and throw up an asterisk every time we use the word "fat." After all, it's okay to be a little overweight - but those really fat people? They're all gonna die! (end sarcasm)

Anyway, thanks for playing. Good luck with that whole "downing what's spoon-fed via the AP without question" thing.
posted by hijinx at 7:44 AM on May 13, 2004


Proving that while Cruise isn't "obese" by "anyone's" standards, he is technically obese.

No, he's not. The primary clinical definition of obesity, as Sidhedevil pointed out above, is "50-100% or 100 pounds above ideal body weight." In most people a BMI above 39 can also indicate obesity, but again, BMI is not a useful diagnostic for those who are very muscular with little body fat. Health professionals are well aware of this and would thus never categorize Tom Cruise as obese, regardless of his BMI. Just because some in the general public don't understand BMI and use it improperly doesn't mean it's fundamentally flawed and should be thrown out. BMI remains a valid way of estimating healthy body weight ranges for the vast majority of people; it's simply not intended to be used for this purpose by exceptionally trim and muscular movie stars.
posted by purplemonkie at 9:24 AM on May 13, 2004


BMI remains a valid way of estimating healthy body weight ranges for the vast majority of people;

I would have to take exception to that. It is a useful measure in maybe 20 percent of people I know, which hardly makes it a useful measure.
posted by rushmc at 3:22 PM on May 14, 2004


Hmm... do you hang out with a lot of kids, athletes, and pregnant women, by any chance?
posted by purplemonkie at 4:25 AM on May 18, 2004


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