What does weight have to do with health? Not much, it turns out.
Most people in our society believe they’re overweight. And many people are deemed overweight, or even obese, by doctors: did you know the definition of “overweight” for a 5’4″ tall woman is 145 pounds, even though the average weight for that height is 144 pounds? So if you’re one pound over average (aka almost half the population), you’re considered overweight.
Americans are afraid of fat because they believe it’s bad for your health. But it’s less related than you think. Contrary to common belief, there is actually NO correlation between body fat and atherosclerosis (fatty plaque in arteries). There IS however a correlation between amount of exercise and risk of diabetes, but NOT between body weight and diabetes. In fact, obese people who exercise live longer than thin people who don’t.
So what’s really unhealthy about fat? For one thing, it makes you less likely to get health insurance because obesity is a “preexisting condition.” Even if you can afford to pay for preventative care out of pocket, you’re a third less likely to get breast exams, gynecologic exams, and pap smears (but just as likely to get hands-off tests like mammograms) as thin women. This is probably due to both doctors’ and patients’ embarrassment at performing these tests, because of shaming around weight issues in our society. “Peter Muennig did research at Columbia University that found that being under the stress of constant shame and stigma over a long period of time was correlated with the same diseases with which obesity has been correlated” (Dances With Fat).
Doctors also often overlook the health concerns you actually came in for and just focus on talking about weight loss. You might come in to talk about a lump you found in your breast and your doctor won’t even do a breast exam until you’ve talked about weight loss options. So you could end up going months to years without knowing what kinds of health issues you’re dealing with. Even if you find a body-positive doctor, they may not have blood pressure cuffs, MRIs, or other test equipment that fits larger bodies so you can’t get the tests you need. So, though studies seem to show that fat women are more likely to get breast, cervical, endometrial, and ovarian cancer, but researchers have concluded that the lack of preventative care may actually account for this.
Dieting, too, can actually HARM your health. Dieting tricks your body into thinking that you are starving (and maybe you are!) so that when you do start eating real food again, your body automatically stores extra calories, so that it’s prepared for the next diet. This explains why many people gain more weight than they lost after each diet. This jumping back and forth between sizes is extremely hard on your body and can cause more health problems.
So what are the facts about our health? It’s true that getting regular exercise and eating plenty of protein and veggies and limiting sugar intake is better for your health. But this is true for everyone, regardless of body size. So, if we’re really so concerned about health, everyone should focus on eating a healthy diet and getting exercise, NOT losing weight!
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