In a recent editorial published by the Annals of Internal Medicine, analysis that gathered data from many other studies came to one major conclusion: any obese person who has yet to develop diabetes (or its pre-diabetic precursor), hypertension, and high cholesterol can expect to experience the diseases within around ten years.
Titled “The Myth of Healthy Obesity,” the authors take aim at the idea that being metabolically unhealthy cannot be separated from being physically obese, which then implies that obesity is inherently and automatically unhealthy.
The research reports that even if a person shows no signs of metabolic syndrome – marked by the ailments mentioned in the previous paragraph – today, the nature of obesity in and of itself still means that they can look forward to developing some form of cardiovascular disease or high blood sugar.
When the researchers used the body mass index (BMI) to categorize over 60,000 study participants, it became a bit clearer: as their individual BMI rose, so did their blood pressure. The more weight they gained, the weaker their resistance to insulin became. Their cholesterol levels changed for the worse. It seemed like excess weight was more punitive than protective, right?
When researchers look at obesity-related illnesses, they look at the actual weight gain as the cause of the problems as opposed to the weight gain being just as much a symptom of something as the diabetes and the high blood pressure. The weight is the problem, the mitigating risk factor. Not something far more overarching, but simply the size.
The research is right – if you’re obese, research dictates that you’re far more likely to encounter these ailments, but the way it’s framed implies that the preventative measure here is to simply “not be fat.” It’s more complicated than that.
What happens if we look at the excess weight as a symptom, alongside diabetes and high blood pressure, instead of a cause? We start looking at the causes of obesity as well.
And, as people love to parrot the “eat less, move more” phrase as the solution to obesity, then it becomes easier to conclude that food is the problem – the primary cause.
What so much research manages to miss, is that pinning the development of these diseases on size as opposed to the kind and amount of food consumed not only lets thin persons off the hook, it characterizes this as a “personal responsibility” problem. If we can’t even get researchers to identify certain kinds of foods as problematic, how could people exercise their “personal responsibility” by deciding that certain foods shouldn’t be consumed?
What does this all mean for the average person? Simple.
Don’t let the biases of individual research groups fool you. Regardless of your size, the kind of food you eat makes you more susceptible to developing obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other components of metabolic syndrome. What makes obesity a higher risk factor is merely the fact that an obese person is seen as more likely to be consuming large quantities of “risky” foods without taking preventative health measures to negate any long-term effects.
Be cognizant of what you eat, how much you eat, and how active you are. Consistent cardiovascular activity actually can serve as a preventative measure against high blood pressure. Aerobic activity can actually help aid in keeping blood sugar low. Healthy eating helps keep your body from needing excessive amounts of exercise to undo any damage that bad eating habits might’ve caused.
Know your stats, and check them frequently. Your cholesterol levels, your blood pressure, your body fat percentage? All things you need to keep stock of. Get your blood work done yearly. While you’re at it, get a fitness test often to make sure that your body is being well taken care of. Flexibility, agility, strength, power, speed… all essential parts of developing and maintaining a fit body. Don’t be ashamed if it requires you to lose a few pounds – we’re talking a lifetime of fitness, not a crash diet to look good in a bikini.
Lastly, regardless of whether or not research speaks directly to you as an obese person or not, be sure to read it with a critical eye.
Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer behind the award-winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss, where she chronicles her journey of going from 330lb couch potato to certified personal trainer, nutritionist, and all-around fitness dynamo. Ask her your health and fitness-related questions on Twitter at @bgg2wl.