Being fat, in and of itself, is not going to kill you. I know, I know, this seems impossible; don’t we hear all the time that obesity is inevitably going to cause everyone in society to spontaneously drop dead of icky fat heart attacks? Well, sure. But studies continue to show that fat is not, by itself, deadly. Inactivity is :
A recent study offered the HAES movement some interesting ammunition in this battle. The study recruited almost 12,000 people of varying BMIs and followed them for 170 months as they adopted healthier habits. Their conclusion? “ Healthy lifestyle habits are associated with a significant decrease in mortality regardless of baseline body mass index.”
Take a look. The “hazard ratio” refers to the risk of dying early, with 1 being the baseline. The “habits” along the bottom count how many healthy habits a person reported. The shaded bars represent people of different BMIs from “healthy weight” (18.5-24.9) to “overweight” (25-29.9), to “obese” (over 30).
Essentially, the study concludes that if you’re doing the right things — watching what you eat, getting up off the couch and going for a walk, maybe going to the gym once in a while — that it doesn’t matter if you’re fat or thin — you’re equally likely to live a long, healthy life.
All is not sweetness and light, of course. As Lisa Wade notes:
This data doesn’t refute the idea that fat matters. In fact, it shows clearly that thinness is protective if people are doing absolutely nothing to enhance their health . It also suggests, though, that healthy habits can make all the difference . Overweight and obese people can have the same mortality risk as “normal” weight people; therefore, we should reject the idea that fat people are “killing themselves” with their extra pounds. It’s simply not true.
Exactly. There’s plenty of evidence that suggests that it’s important to exercise, and important to be healthier. And that’s fine — healthy habits are a good thing. But not because they will cause you to magically not be fat. Rather, developing healthy habits will help you live longer and better, which is really the important thing.
The societal impulse to push thinness over everything else is ultimately dangerous. There is some evidence that if you’re a sedentary thin person who eats poorly, you’ll have a better shot at a long, healthy life than a sedentary fat person who eats poorly. But that’s just genetic luck — we all have a touch of that. If you’re an active fat person, however, you’re much more likely to live a long and healthy life than a sedentary thin person. If we as a society advocate for healthy habits — exercising more and eating healthier — we will all benefit. If we keep our focus on fat, not only will it not help fat people live longer, it won’t help skinny people, either.