Monday, December 03, 2007

Would you rather be fat or live another 20 years?

Readers of this blog have no doubt heard about the study* that showed a shockingly high percentage of people would rather be blind, lose a limb, live a shortened lifespan, and suffer other calamities--so long as they didn't have to be fat.

Now a new study may put that fatphobia to the test. Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle have found that nematode worms who were exposed to one of the tricyclic antidepressants lived up to 30 percent longer lifespans. Their hypothesis: the drug disturbed the balance of chemicals in the brain and created a "perceived, but not real" state of starvation that altered the creatures' natural lifespans.**

Sounds like sci fi, doesn't it? After all, humans have been chasing a longer lifespan since Ponce de Leon hunted for that fountain--and probably long before that. But wait, said the researchers, even if this effect could be shown in people, they're not going to go for it, because that class of medications causes "weight gain and increased appetite."

So someday we really might be faced with a choice between being fat and living significantly longer.

What would *you* do?

** See


Veracity said...

I know that correlation is not causality (blah, blah, blah) but wouldn't it be interesting if the weight gain caused by the meds was a factor in the increased life expectancy?

Anonymous said...

I read that article... I'm fairly sure what the 'weight gain and appetite' comment meant was that they think there's a connection between the 'artificial state of starvation' in nematodes and the effects on appetite in human patients.

Anonymous said...

I read a similar topic at Nobody knows how long he can live. And nobody can chosse how long to live. Just live each day! Do what you want to do. It's not bad to be overweight if we can't choose.

Anonymous said...

You mean "be thin or live significantly longer," right? Or is this study about what they've already been telling us since time began?

RioIriri said...

If I could choose? I'd of course choose to live longer than to be thin. But I don't have a choice in my weight ;)

Also, my mother purchased your book for me as a gift, and I was so excited to see it in the amazon box!

vesta44 said...

Does it really matter? Your life span is not something you can do much about. You can exercise, eat healthy, take as few risks as possible, and that still doesn't mean you will live a long life. You could get hit by a car, struck by lightning, slip and fall in the bathroom, or have one of any number of other accidents happen to you to cut short your life and nothing you had done previously would have mattered a hill of beans. Accidents don't care if you're thin or fat or in-between. Life doesn't give you any guarantees about anything, other than the fact that someday, you will die. It may be at the age of 20, or 50, or 120, but you will die. What matters is what you do with the life you have, while you have it.

wriggles said...

This relates interestingly to those that are on a very low calorie diet due to research done on rats, which seemed to indicate that semi-starvation can extend logevity.
Then link that with what scientists once termed 'starvation in the midst of plenty' that is when the body of a fat person is operatining on the bare minimum of calories and storing the rest, regardless of intake.
If this actually tallies with the human body, then it seems that it is the state of one's body using the bare minimum of calories that possibly saves the body in some way, regardless of whether that state leads to you being fat or thin.

Anonymous said...

what vesta44 said.

And also: would living longer under that regime mean I'd have to be hungry and borderline hypoglycemic all the time? No thanks.

Besides, there's a comet that might hit the earth in 2036. I'd only be about 70 or I think I'll keep eating the diet I normally eat.

Besides, the way the world is changing? I'm not sure I'd want to live to see 120 or whatever. If society continues to go down the path it's going...not to be overdramatic but I'd not be at all surprised if we didn't see another civil war in the U.S. sometime in the next 100 years.

Anonymous said...

You'll love this Harriet:

Fit Over 60s Live Longer Regardless Of Body Fat

05 Dec 2007

A new US study suggests that over 60s who are fit live longer, regardless of their level of body fat. The study is published in the 5th December issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and is the work of Dr Xuemei Sui, of the University of South Carolina, Columbia, and colleagues.

Sui and colleagues found that adults over 60 who had higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, lived longer than adults who were unfit, independently of their body fat levels.

Scientists have shown that obesity and being physically inactive are strongly linked to higher risk of death in adults, but little was known about the risks in older adults, wrote the researchers.

The researchers looked at the links between cardiorespiratory fitness, measures of body fat (adiposity), and death among 2,603 participants aged 60 and above. The average age of the group was 64.4 years, and nearly 20 per cent were women. They were enrolled in a study called the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study that lasted from 1979 to 2001.

Participants' fitness levels were measured using a treadmill exercise and body fat was assessed using Body Mass Index (BMI, the ratio of weight to height squared), waist size, and percentage of body fat.

The researchers defined low fitness as the bottom 20 per cent of fitness scores in the treadmill test for each of the male and female groups.

The results showed that:
450 of the participants died during the 12 years of follow up (up to December 2003; 31,236 person-years of exposure).

The participants who died were older, less fit, and had higher cardiovascular risks than those who survived.

But there were no sginificant differences in body fat measures between those who died and those who survived.

Men and women with higher fitness levels mostly had fewer cardiovascular risks, eg for hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol.

They also had lower rates of death than unfit participants, regardless of body fat, except for two of the obesity categories.

In most cases, rates of death for the most fit were less than half the rates of death of the unfit.

Higher fitness was linked to lower risk of death due to all causes.

This was true in both normal weight and overweight BMI groups, for participants with normal waist size, abdominal obesity, normal per cent body fat, and excessive body fat.
The authors concluded that:

"In this study population, fitness was a significant mortality predictor in older adults, independent of overall or abdominal adiposity."

"Clinicians should consider the importance of preserving functional capacity by recommending regular physical activity for older individuals, normal-weight and overweight alike," they added.

Commenting on the results, the researchers wrote that:

"We observed that fit individuals who were obese (such as those with BMI of 30.0 to 34.9, abdominal obesity, or excessive percent body fat) had a lower risk of all-cause mortality than did unfit, normal-weight, or lean individuals."

"Our data therefore suggest that fitness levels in older individuals influence the association of obesity to mortality," they explained.

They also wrote that the new evidence shed significant light on the complex long term associations among fitness, body size and survival, and suggested it may be possible to bring down death rates due to all causes among older adults, including the obese, by encouraging them to take regular physical exercise.

Even brisk walking for 30 minutes nearly every day will help to keep most older adults out of the low fitness category, suggested the researchers.

"Enhancing functional capacity also should allow older adults to achieve a healthy lifestyle and to enjoy longer life in better health," they wrote.

"Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Adiposity as Mortality Predictors in Older Adults.
Xuemei Sui; Michael J. LaMonte; James N. Laditka; James W. Hardin; Nancy Chase; Steven P. Hooker; Steven N. Blair.
JAMA 2007 298: 2507-2516
Vol. 298 No. 21, December 5, 2007

Written by: Catharine Paddock

Copyright: Medical News Today
Not to be reproduced without permission of Medical News Today

Article URL:

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't take the drug. Not for feat of fat, because I'm already there :-) Mostly because I'm naturally suspicious of new medications and those pesky side effects that only show up after 5-10 years (kinda like phen-fen?). Also because the extra 20 years are probably not going to be added to the prime of life, but the adult-dipers and oxygen end. I'm a big fan of quality over quantity, and would much rather have a short, full, quality life than a long, drawn-out one without merit. I've even made it clear to friends and family that when/if my quality of life becomes obviously poor through dementia, incurable disease, etc. I want someone to call Kevorkian. Life by itself to me is not as valuable as what you do with it.

Anonymous said...

Many of the ways we try to loose weight -- diet soda and diet foods laden with chemicals, etc - are cancer causers. That being said, as a breast cancer survivor, I was told to loose weight or die...just like that. I've connected with many women of my wieght and height at and I have learned to accept my size, be happy and focus on survivint cancer with the body of me that I love.

Harriet said...

What an inspiring comment, cancervsurvivor. It makes me furious to hear about doctors who say things like that--Lose weight or you'll die, period. If there are situations where that's applicable, yours isn't one of them. I basically had a doctor say that to me 10 years ago, in my late 30s, because of a cholesterol number. Just a number. No other risk factors, no syjmptoms of heart disease, nothing. But her warning was meant to put the fear of God into me, and it did. It sent me into several years' of taking cholesterol drugs, which messed me up far more than the extra weight I was carrying.

Thanks for sharing.