Friday, June 15, 2007

Fat--it's all in your head

At least according to this editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry, exploring the question of whether to make obesity a brain disorder in DSM-V.

Of course, it's not really clear what exactly they mean by brain disorder. Anorexia and bulimia are listed in DSM-IV as brain disorders, sorta, and I have to say, I'm not sure what that means, either. Insurers still treat them as mental health issues rather than biologically based illnesses, and use that as a way to skive off covering them (at least in beknighted states like Wisconsin, which have no mental healthy parity laws).

It depends what the rationale is here, really. What we now know about eating disorders like anorexia is that some people are genetically and biologically predisposed to them, and that environment seems to play some kind of role in triggering those who are susceptible. Maybe that's true for obesity. That makes more sense to me than suggesting that all so-called obese people are compulsive eaters, which we know ain't true. Yo-yo dieting might be the environmental trigger, resetting the metabolism over time in ways that result in obesity.

But if an entry in DSM-V is going to result in more stigma attached to being obesity, I think we should say no thanks.

What do you think?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The obesity paradox

Thanks to fat fu for pointing me toward this article on the so-called obesity paradox. It reads like something straight out of Jonathan Swift. Or Lenny Bruce. You can just hear it, can't you?

Judge: You say that fat people live longer after heart attacks? Impossible.
D.A.: I know, your honor. Fat kills! Most of the time.
Judge: What's your evidence, counsel?
D.A.: Everybody knows it's bad to be fat!
Defense: Objection! "Everybody knows" is not admissible in court.
Judge: Overruled. In this case, no evidence is necessary. [rises from seat, points accusing finger at defense counsel] You're not eligible to serve as counsel in this case, Counsel, because . . . you're FAT!

And so on.

The real obesity paradox, of course, is our culture's blind and stubborn insistence on vilifying and demonizing fat people and fat, in the face of any and all evidence to the contrary.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fat kills. Except when it doesn't.

Deaths from coronary artery disease in the U.S. went down by half between 1980 and 2000, and researchers at the University of Liverpool attribute this to positive lifestyle changes and better treatments.

Now for the bad news: Those same researchers go on to say, on no cited evidence, that the number of deaths would have been reduced even further had it not been for the rise in obesity and diabetes.

How do they know this? Well, they don't, actually. One researcher is quoted as saying, "The increase in obesity and diabetes are a wakeup call. They reflect the increasing consumption of large helpings of junk food."

Hmmm. So deaths from heart disease have decreased during the same time that rate of obesity have increased, yet obesity is still to blame. That's what I call having it both ways.

An epidemiologist could look at the same information and come to the opposite conclusion: That obesity has a protective effect when it comes to death from heart disease.

Seems like more of the same fat-is-evil ranting to me, liberally laced with assumptions and a heaping helping of bias. Mmm, mmm.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Another reason to look beyond weight and BMI

The New York Times reports the results of a study showing that young women who weigh enough to menstruate may still be eating too little to be healthy. Researchers at Ohio University found that bone formation, which is critical in adolescence, may not be taking place even if women get regular periods.

This is relevant because doctors so often use menstruation as a marker of health among those recovering from anorexia. But it's clearly not the criterion to live or die by.

Here's the money quote, to my mind: “Regular menstrual cycles do not reliably indicate that they are eating enough for what they’re expending,” Dr. Loucks said. Read more about it here.