Diet & Weight Magazine

That Ridiculous “Outrunning Obesity” Article

By Danceswithfat @danceswithfat

bad scienceAn article in Mashable today called “You Can’t Outrun Obesity” begins:

A team of British cardiologists have said it’s time to “bust the myth” that regular exercise tackles obesity.

The strongly-worded editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, published in the May edition of the journal, says you can’t outrun a bad diet and that although regular exercise reduces the risk of developing a number of health issues such as heart disease, dementia, some cancers and type 2 diabetes, it doesn’t promote weight loss.

I hate when they say “tackle” obesity – like people should be running at me in the street or something. But that’s not what’s super messed up here  What’s super messed up is that these doctors are aware that movement reduces the risk of developing heart disease, dementia, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes (the exact reasons that we’re given for losing weight,) and instead of saying “Hey, this seems like more evidence to suggest that maybe we should be more focused on evidence-based health interventions and less focused on manipulating people’s body size,” they are trying to downplay the actual health benefits because the evidence-based health intervention that they’ve found doesn’t make people’s bodies smaller.

They go on to suggest that a low carb diet is best, citing an article that isn’t even primarily about weight loss, that notes that health benefits can be seen without weight loss, that spends most of its conclusion section trying to justifying why we should accept shitty studies as good enough, and relies for its proof of low carb diets as “the best for weight loss ” on two studies, neither of which had weight loss as a primary outcome measure, one of which looked at 26 people over three months, and another that looked at 82 people over three months. Whoooeee that’s some good sciencing!  (Sarcasm meter 10 out of 10)

The problem here is that we’ve become so obsessed with trying to get everyone into the same height weight ratio that we’ve taken our eye off the ball of giving people options and information that will support their actual health.

Most studies about weight and health don’t take behavior into account, which is weird because those that do take behavior into account find that behaviors, and not body size, are the best predictor of future health.  To be clear, health is complicated, multi-dimensional, not entirely within our control, not guaranteed under any circumstances, not an obligation or a barometer of worthiness.

But if scientists were going to be honest with us they would say “Even if making people thin would make them healthy (and that’s an unproven hypothesis,) we have absolutely no idea how to make more than a tiny fraction of people thinner long-term and most of those people are losing very small amounts of weight.  We have no idea how to make fat people thin, and many of the things that we are trying have horrible side effects, including death.  We do know that stigma and oppression can be dangerous for people’s health, and that behaviors can positively impact health without impacting weight at all.  So we recommend making sure people have access to the information, food, and movement options (if any) that they would choose, and that we do everything we can to avoid shaming, stigmatizing, or oppressing people, and then let people make their own choices about how to prioritize their health and the path that they want to choose to get there.”

Instead, we live in a world where scientists who get grants from the Atkins Foundation [for low-carb dieting] write papers trying to sell people on the benefits of the diets that they are payed to endorse (check the small print in the footnote on page 1) and irresponsible, scientifically illiterate media that report them as if they are the gospel-according-to-weightloss truth.  And it’s always the people who are paying the diet companies – and not the scientists being paid by them  – who suffer for it.

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