You know how I just love studies. A new one declares just being a little overweight raises your risk of premature death. I’m thinking that if I’d read this before my after-work walkout, I’d have put in an extra mile.
Here we are, in the middle of the Eating Season, and along comes a study that could actually cure fork-in-mouth disease. (Hey, that’s pretty good.) Here’s the catch: Even though it was a massive study – about 1.5 million people –all were white. The researchers admit that results might be different for other racial and ethnic groups.
What’s interesting is that none of the news stories on this study let readers know early on that the results on apply to whites. It’s a safe bet that if researchers had studied 1.5 million African Americans, that fact would have been made clear in the headlines.
The study was led by Amy Berrington de Gonzalez at the National Cancer Institute, and conducted in mostly white, westernized populations in Europe, Australia and the United States. The studies included 1.46 million white adults. “Both overweight and obesity are associated with increased all-cause mortality,” the study authors wrote. “The results of our analysis are most relevant to whites living in affluent countries.”
These results contradict with what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told us about five years ago: Being a little overweight did not raise the risk of death. In fact, having a little extra weight might help you combat illness, the CDC concluded.
Logic tells us that being a healthy weight – however you define it – means a longer life. And given that African Americans and whites often have different results in weight studies, I seriously doubt that being slightly overweight has the same impact on life expectancy for blacks and whites.
The white study found that there is 10 percent increased risk of death with being overweight compared to having a normal body mass index (BMI). Those morbidly obese – having a BMI of 40 or more – have 2.5 times the risk of dying than people of a healthy weight who are the same age.
Berrington de Gonzalez said that for the same BMI level, African Americans might have a lower risk of death and Asians a higher risk. Here’s the thing: It’s been proven time and again that the BMI formula may not be accurate for non-whites. It was created using white men and women as the baseline, and doesn’t account for differences in body composition between men and women and ethnic groups. In fact, several studies found that non-Hispanic white women are not considered obese until they have a BMI of 30 or above. For black women, it’s around 32. Women in other ethnic groups were considered obese even if their BMI number was below 30. Why? Variations in bone mineral content, hydration state and the density of lean mass in different ethnic groups.
In other words, we’re all different.
However, we’re saying that two-thirds of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese – overweigh being a BMI of 25, obese being 30 and morbidly obese at 40.
A person my height, 5’6”, is considered overweight at 155 pounds. Last time I was 155 pounds I was a very fit size 10.
Still, because they studied 1.5 million people, these folks think their results provide strong evidence that being a little overweight is a very bad thing.
I say holding up one race/ethnicity as the “standard” and the flawed BMI scale are far, far worse.
An unsophisticated forecaster uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts - for support rather than for illumination. ~ Andrew Lang
Leslie J. Ansley is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur who blogs daily for TheRoot. She lives in Raleigh, NC.