Friday, January 4, 2013

BMI: The difference between "Fat" and "Overweight"


Today, CNN posted an opinion piece from Marilynn Wann about why it is okay to be fat. She wrote a book called FAT!SO? demanding that society fully accept her, as well as many others', life decisions that led to their morbid obesity.

This article is misleading and dangerous. First off, CNN Opinion is not clearly delineated from CNN News therefore people are going to lend this author's article more credence than it deserves. Second, Ms. Wann does not differentiate from the lay-term "fat" and the the medical-terms "normal", "overweight", and "obese".  Note the BMI chart above and the fact that "fat" is not a category.

The studies she points to concludes that being overweight (the yellow region) correlates to better survivability when the person is going through serious illness. The body fat provides a caloric buffer for the body to draw energy off of. Being overweight helps the body recover from chemotherapy. The overweight patients have lower mortality rates after experiencing a stroke.

What science does not tell us is that being obese or overweight is better for your health in normal conditions, which Ms. Wann's article strongly implies. Once you start approaching obese or morbidly obese, the protective effect of a bit of extra weight begins to be outweighed by other issues, such as joint damage, increasing heart related problems, and other diseases related to obesity.

Before I start a flame war on the internet, I am making clear that I fully agree with her other premise that obese people should not face fat discrimination. But again, only up to a point: where a person's heft starts to trample onto the rights of others. Ms. Wann expresses her outrage that an obese person was denied access to an MRI because the safety limit on the machine was only 450 lbs. Frankly, I agree with the technician that denied her care, because if this $500,000 machine broke then others would not have access to it.

There are many lovely people out there who are obese. There are also many not-so-kind people out there who are skinny. A person's weight does not determine the content of their character. Being self-righteous about bad habits has nothing to do with Ms. Wann's weight, but more to do with who she is as a person. This misleading article is not okay.

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