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It’s Not Healthy to Be Too Thin

An attempt to maintain a lower-than-normal weight triggers emotional eating and eating disorders in millions of people. Being very thin is not healthy, which suggests it’s not normal or natural. From an article about a new Japanese study:

“People who are a little overweight at age 40 live six to seven years longer than very thin people, whose average life expectancy was shorter by some five years than that of obese people, the study found.

“We found skinny people run the highest risk,” said Shinichi Kuriyama, an associate professor at Tohoku University’s Graduate School of Medicine who worked on the long-term study of middle-aged and elderly people.”

This is only the latest in many studies to show this result.

Evidence suggests that our normal, healthiest weight may be somewhat higher than what the weight tables say it should be. If people could accept their natural, normal weight as beautiful and healthy, it would solve many problems. I’m not talking about being very fat, just a little fatter than the culture around us says we should be.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them.

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10 comments to It’s Not Healthy to Be Too Thin

  • Lisa (Xanadu) Lisa (Xanadu)

    Misogyny takes so many forms, and so many of them involve false dichotomies like “Madonna/whore” or “good mom/bad mom,” which cause women to unconsciously view themselves in this malignantly polarized way.

    I think it’s the same way with “thin/fat.” The reality is that most women are neither very thin nor very fat, but that level of ambiguity causes a lot of discomfort in our culture, especially since it suggests that women have bodily self-determination and identities distinct from their looks. This is how we get into the sort of insanity that the media both reflects and generates. If you’re not thin, you must be fat. (Or pregnant–the endless “baby bump watches” mostly involve celebrities whose stomachs simply aren’t concave, perhaps because they ate lunch that day.)

    In a weird way, the recent attention on anorexic models who starve to death is smoke and mirrors. It obfuscates the much larger problem of women who never become skeletal, who may even be overweight or obese, but nonetheless have seriously disordered eating. Personally I think it’s much scarier to think about living with an eating disorder for years and years, with all the loss of joy and meaning that involves, than to think about dying from one.

  • This wasn’t a study on women – the findings apply to men, as well. Nor is it about obesity, but rather being just a little heavier than we’re told we should be. The last line of the article says this:

    “The normal range is 18.5 to 25, with thinness defined as under 18.5. A BMI of 25 to 30 was classed as slightly overweight and an index above 30 as obese.”

    The finding was that the “slightly overweight” category, as defined by BMI standards, was the healthiest category. I have to believe that the healthiest category is the “normal” category – the category where we’re meant to be biologically. Also, the “normal weight” and “somewhat overweight” categories combined are where most people actually are statistically. Maybe the so-called “normal” BMI should be extended up into the so-called “overweight” BMI range.

    Related to this are some statistics I found on http://www.bigfatfacts.com/.

    The B.M.I. doesn’t tell you the percentage of body fat you’re carrying, or how your fat is distributed. According to this measurement, half of the National Basketball Association is overweight or obese.

    Overweight = BMI 25 – 29.9
    An estimated 35 percent of U.S. adults, over 66 million people, are overweight, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of between 25 – 29.9.

    Obesity = BMI greater than 30
    An estimated 30 percent of U.S. adults, over 60 million people, are obese, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.

    So (by subtraction) < 35% are in the normal range (since some people are underweight). This means most people are in the "slightly overweight" range, and somewhat less than 70% are in the normal or overweight range - the entire range being healthy, as long as you exercise.

    Also from bigfatfacts.com:

    Studies have shown that people who are heavy and fit are far healthier than people who are thin and never exercise. Fat, active people have half the mortality rate of thin sedentary people, and the same mortality rate as thin active people.

    Very interesting stuff – none of it about women per se.

  •  annieflorance

    This research is quite something really, my BMI comes in at 26.4 and I have held the long standing belief that I am just a little overweight and therefore should aim to loose weight. But really according to this research a gap exists between what is found to be healthy i.e. slightly overweight people whom are physically fit (likely our normal weight) & what our culture deems desirable. That gray area between these two points drives a lot of disordered eating, my own included. The magazine pictures of super thin models we are seeing actually represent an unhealthy image with a reduction in life expectancy!

    Upon reflection of this article my perceptions are changing, what I need to be mindful of is getting regular exercise & having a focus of health not of BMI or weight! I had the experience this week of supporting a family member to find their healthy BMI, and it meant an enormous weight loss, which would actually render them incredibly thin (this is a man), I think BMI’s are fundamentally flawed, but are increasingly used as THE guide to health by health professionals. At the very least the BMI range from 25 – 30 should be part of the healthy weight range, or that this measurement is ditched in favour of something that truly measures health, and takes into account gender, race, musculature, physical activity & emotional wellbeing.

    Annie~

  • Octopus Octopus

    Why and/or how do you think the BMI ranges got to be so seemingly restrictive? Is it simply because it doesn’t take into account body composition & distribution? I guess I should look at who came up with these and why…

  • Hi Annie,

    I couldn’t agree more! Thanks very much for posting the link to the Japanese study on the Normal Eating Facebook page.

    - Sheryl

  • I’m not familiar with the history of the BMI – who came up with it and why. It definitely doesn’t take into account body composition.

  •  annieflorance

    You are very welcome Sheryl, reading this article & your commentary on BMI has triggered quite an AHA moment for me.

    I didn’t realise how weight focused I still can be at times, and where my health is concerned I don’t actually need to be.

    It also reinforces that my health can be enhanced with exercise. Not the driving, rigid kind nor the complete avoidance kind, but the I want to choose health & have fun kind!!

    Went for a great mountain bike ride this afternoon lead by our 7yr old, it was good exercise and we had some great laughs. Just as I wish it to be.

    Annie~

  •  annieflorance

    I found a little info on the history of of the BMI

    Body Mass Index, was invented by Belgian statician between 1830 and 1850, is a measure of body fat calculated from height and weight. It was developed to help Insurance companies to assess risk from body size!!

    Here is the link to a really good website about the inaccuracy of the BMI as an indicator of health.

    http://www.preventdisease.com/news/articles/081806_bmi.shtml

    I think it is well outdated but probably suits the insurance companies to catagorise risk in quite a narrow way. Sorry I am quite suspicious of health insurance risk analysis.

    Annie~

  • Octopus Octopus

    Annie — thank you so much! No wonder it is so restrictive! (I am suspicious as well.)
    I find it baffling that such an old and specific metric is being used as our current barometer of “health.” Very odd.

    I posted on the forum about this, but I want to mention it here as well. I remember a few years ago there was a brief flurry on the news about overweight, fit people “maybe” being healthier than thin, unfit people, but they never said anything definitive or cited any studies, and they would always counter it with research or doctors that flatly stated being “overweight” was unhealthy regardless of fitness level. I hope this new study will open a door to another way of thinking about fitness and so-called “overweight.”

  • The link about BMI is not working unfortunately. I’ll try again later.

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