To Lengthen Thy Life, Ignore the Fatophiles

Posted: Aug 30, 2007 12:01 AM
To Lengthen Thy Life, Ignore the Fatophiles

“To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.” So observed Benjamin Franklin centuries ago. But Franklin didn’t comment on whether food intake restriction worked by keeping people thin or by making them thin. Indeed, it’s become a mantra of the “size acceptance” groups that there’s no scientific evidence that losing weight increases longevity. And it’s been true – until now.

Sure, a mass of published studies show that thinner is better in terms of overall health and longevity. This notwithstanding the occasional report, like Katherine Flegal’s in 2005,  that encouraged the notorious food and beverage industry front group, Center for Consumer Freedom, to practically gloat itself to death with an obese $600,000 newspaper advertising blitz. Inevitably such studies fail to account for thinness from smoking or a wasting disease, are then corrected and like Flegal’s are refuted.

Likewise, the science is overwhelming that losing weight improves markers for premature death such as vascular inflammation, which causes heart disease and stroke. But finally we have two randomized, controlled studies showing a direct cause-and-effect relationship between reducing consumption and increasing lifespan.

Both followed patients of bariatric surgery, which means either reducing the size of the stomach or bypassing it altogether, and appeared in the August 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The first, by Lars Sjostrom of Goteborg University in Sweden and colleagues, followed 2,010 obese bariatric surgery patients over 11 years. It found they were about 30 percent less likely on average to die than matched persons who didn’t undergo the surgery. The leading cause of death in the non-surgery group was heart disease, followed by cancer.

The second study, by Ted Adams and others at the University of Utah, followed 7,925  morbidly obese persons who’d had bariatric surgery. Initially they had an average Body Mass Index (BMI) of 45, equivalent to somebody 5’8” weighing 295 pounds. After an average of just seven years they were about 40 percent less likely to have died than matched controls. They were 92 percent less likely to die from diabetes, 60 percent less likely to die of cancer, and 56 percent less like to die of heart disease.

Bariatric surgery, mind you, has many risks. It’s much healthier to drop pounds with improved diet and exercise. But losing weight, unless done by hacking off a limb, does save lives and we can all regard this as wonderful news, right? Wrong.

There are fatophiles who have found their life’s calling in catering to delusional overweight people, which can be a lucrative market insofar as two-thirds of adult Americans are overweight or obese. Most fat people realize they have a problem, but many would rather believe their condition to be benign rather than taking the difficult (but hardly impossible) route of doing something about it.

One fatophile is University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos, who authored The Obesity Myth. "I would hate to see these studies being used to justify the argument that we should be doing weight-loss surgery to save lives," he told the Washington Post. “At best, it's a very, very modest effect," he said of the study results.

Whoa Nellie! Thirty percent reduced mortality over 11 years or 40 percent over seven years isn’t just “modest,” but “very, very modest?”

Then there’s Sandy Szwarc, properly labeled “a bigwig in the fat acceptance movement.” Like Campos, she’s written that fatter people live longer. She’s even slammed exercise as a means of weight control in claiming – I kid you not – that you have to walk 3,920 miles to lose a mere pound of fat.

Of the new studies, she says it’s a “leap of logic” to assume there’s a correlation between the bariatric surgery and subsequent dramatic weight loss and the “purported improved mortalities.” Granting that the longer survival time may have resulted from divine intervention or alien abductions, what was “purported” about the patients living longer?

Hippocrates, around 350 B.C., observed that "Persons who are naturally very fat are apt to die earlier than those who are slender.” Scores of thousands of published, peer-reviewed studies have now shown that excess body fat kills and cripples, along with demonstrating how and why. Anyone who insist the science says otherwise is being “very, very” dishonest.

Michael Fumento is the author of the 1987 book The Fat of the Land: The Obesity Epidemic and How Overweight Americans Can Help Themselves.