On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Take Broad Headlines With Grain of Salt

DEAR DR. BLONZ: My question is regarding the recent headline that being overweight (as opposed to obese) may not be that serious of a health problem. What is your take on this message? -- F.S., Atlanta

DEAR F.S.: Statistics can reveal mathematical relationships between different things, and these relationships might, or might not, explain what is going on. Such research can also uncover strange relationships that may have little to do with reality. I am reminded of one finding that physicians who eat more meat and consume more alcohol have a much lower risk of dying in a plane crash. This is more of an amusing statistical quirk, not an indication that doctors need to grab a burger and a beer before they board a flight.

Carrying a little extra weight is not incompatible with good health and a long life. Conversely, being at or below a “normal” weight is no guarantee of health and longevity -- indeed, being classified as underweight can be a negative. Healthful foods and an active lifestyle, including activities that one enjoys and that relieve stress, are the key elements. These critical distinctions can be lost in the type of large-scale population studies used to arrive at headline-making conclusions.

A standard measure of body weight is the body mass index, or BMI, which is calculated using height and body weight. A BMI of less than 18.5 is considered underweight; 18.5-25 is ideal body weight; 25-30 is overweight; over 30 is obese; and over 40 is deemed to be extreme obesity. (More on BMI at b.link/X4wwe.) Being classified as overweight means that one’s weight is above one’s ideal, but not obese. Back to that headline: One widely circulated population study reported a slight benefit to being overweight (though not obese), but later studies tended to question these findings. (More on that discussion at b.link/kcewv.)

As a general statement -- and based solely on BMI -- being in the overweight group does not add to mortality risk when compared with being of ideal body weight. However, preventing obesity is much easier than eliminating excess weight once it’s on the scene. This means we need to focus on building and maintaining healthful habits during early adulthood -- and even more so as we transition to our middle-aged years and beyond, as these are the times of creeping body weight. A telling indicator is that slow but overlooked shift to larger-sized clothes.

Crucially, consider that we are individuals, not statistics. Give yourself an honest look in the mirror, check out what is on your plate and consider the activities and pleasures that comprise your life. I put trust in these over headlines about population statistics.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.