Thursday, May 14, 2009

Do lesbians have better body image?

That's the intriguing suggestion made by this study, published in the March issue of the Journal of Women's Health (which is currently online free in honor of Women's Health Month). This study of young Australian women showed that lesbians had better body image than either bisexual or mainly heterosexual women. They were less dissatisfied with their weight and shape (notice the phrasing here: "less dissatisfied" as opposed to "happy with"), and less likely to engage in what researchers call "unhealthy weight control behaviors"--i.e., smoking, using laxatives, weight cycling, and skipping meals.

I could speculate as to what's behind this--couldn't we all?--but I'd love to know more. "Understanding why lesbians have a healthier body image would also provide insights into how to improve the body image of other groups," write the study's authors. Indeed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fat-friendly doctors

I'm writing a magazine piece right now on "women's diseases"-the disorders (often autoimmune) that have historically been pooh-poohed by doctors. I'm talking about diseases like chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, MS, fibromyalgia, and PCOS. As part of my research, I've talked to many women with these diseases, especially PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome. One of the telltale characteristics of a woman with PCOS is having very high levels of insulin, which wreaks all sorts of havoc on the body. And which, oh yes, makes you gain weight.

One of the women I interviewed talked about gaining 125 pounds in less than a year, without changing her diet or exercise habits--and then being told by a doctor that she had to "get your eating under control!"

Of course, you don't have to have PCOS or another illness to have had a run-in with fatphobic doctors. Many of the stories here speak to the same issues.

So for anyone who's ever had to deal with a doctor who just doesn't get it, here's a link to a fabulous list of fat-friendly health professionals around the world.

The site is maintained by one Stef Maruch. Thanks, Stef. You're doing us all a big favor.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Why the food and exercise police are unsuccessful

The human body is an amazing thing. Amazing! As every dieter knows, if you cut back on its fuel one day, you'll feel hungrier the next as your body tries to compensate. Turns out the same model applies when it comes to physical activity. If you give kids more gym time, more time spent running around, they become less active when they're not in school.

At least, that what a new study done in the Netherlands shows. The study results, presented last week at the European Congress on Obesity, demonstrated yet again why trying to manipulate kids' eating habits and weight through "interventions" is ineffective. Researchers looked at kids from three schools, who got 9.2, 2.4, or 1.7 hours of scheduled phys ed time in a school week, and found that kids' activity levels averaged out to be exactly the same no matter how much gym they got in school. Those who didn't get much PE time at school became more active at home, while those who got a lot of PE in school did less at home.

"We believe the range of activity among children, from the slothful to the hyperactive, reflects not the range in environmental opportunities, but the range of individual activity set-points in the brains of children," said Alissa Frémaux, a biostatistician (I didn't even know there was such a thing! very cool) who analyzed the study.

I think more PE time in schools is a great thing, especially when there are big gaps in the socioeconomic status of kids. While some kids get carted around to ballet and soccer, too many kids have no opportunities outside of school to move, be active, exercise, and have physical fun. So I'm all for piling it on at school.

Just don't expect more gym time to equal thinner children. And don't think that lowering the fat content of school lunches will translate into thinner kids, either.*

*I am deliberately leaving aside the notion of whether these are desirable outcomes. The plain truth is that they're not achievable. Constant readers know what I think anyway.

**Thanks, as usual, to Jane for pointing me toward this research.