Death Fat: The last ten years

By | March 18, 2009

Big news, y’all; according to a new study, it turns out being fat will kill you. I know, I was shocked too. Gary Whitlock, possibly not a real doctor, asserts:

“Obesity causes kidney disease, liver disease and several types of cancer, but the most common way it kills is by causing stroke and, most importantly, heart disease. Obesity causes heart disease by pushing up blood pressure, by interfering with blood cholesterol levels, and by bringing on diabetes,” Whitlock said.

I’m not even going to get into the irresponsibility of this statement. I’m not even going to complain about the fact that there is still no unequivocal medical evidence that fat directly and independently causes any of the above. I’m not even going to trot out the old “correlation is not the same as causation” number. I’m bored with it. I’ve never been real committed to arguing with the medical establishment. I leave that to people who give a crap.

The gist of the article, however – and the part that the news will likely seize upon greedily – is the suggestion that fatness takes years off one’s life in the same way that smoking does. Ten years, to be precise. Now, let’s leave aside the fact that this study is not actually a study, but a review of the results of 57 different, other studies, which may or may not have been looking at body size and longevity as their primary aim. Even if you’ve not had a course in research methods, you can probably understand why this sort of approach can be problematic – essentially, the study authors are taking data from a plethora of sources that may not have been investigating this specific subject at all, but which happen to provide information about body size and longevity within the data they’ve collected for their own purposes. I try not to put too much emphasis on medical studies myself, as I find them simply crazymaking, and also I don’t think they have a whole lot to say to the individual layman about his or her own health, as they’re designed to speak to broad statistical populations, and not to diagnose you personally with high blood pressure or The Death Fat. That said, a study that is run by one group of people with sufficient controls and for the purpose of gaining information on a specific aspect of health is naturally going to be more accurate than an amalgam of a bunch of Other People’s Data, analyzed and reorganized to try to make a point. And often that point – not the point covered in the news, but the underlying point – is to stir up further hysteria about “obesity” and fat and to get attention and funding for the study’s authors.

Thus, I have a hard time taking the article’s assertion of fatness universally and automatically hacking ten years off one’s life too seriously. But even if I did, well –

I am not a fan of Denis Leary. Generally speaking, I find 90% of his stuff painfully unfunny. But this article reminded me of a line from one of his comedy CDs, one that my husband used to listen to all the time when we first moved in together. It goes:

Smoking takes ten years off your life. Well, it’s the ten worst years, isn’t it folks? It’s the ones at the end! It’s the wheelchair, kidney dialysis, adult diaper fucking years. You can have those years! We don’t want ‘em, alright?

This is what I automatically think of every time I hear that the death fat is going to kill me. The man has a point.

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