What is the one point you would make if you had a two-minute animated video to talk about what is wrong with the science about weight and health?
I put this question out to my friends, who had wonderful ideas:
“The studies on dieting aren’t long enough to show that almost everybody regains weight.”
“No one talks about how people in the ‘overweight’ range live the longest.”
“They don’t consider the overlays of race/ethnicity, class, access to/trust in traditional medical care, and health.”
“It has to be called the obesity ‘paradox’ because they can never admit that fat could be protective.”
“No one looks at the health impacts of stigma or weight cycling.”
“When thin people die earlier, the explanation is that they must have been sick, but when fat people die earlier, they must have gotten sick because they were fat.”
“They lower the cutoffs so everything looks like a bigger problem than it is.”
“There have never really tested the idea that weight loss would make people healthier because almost everyone regains weight.”
“No one thinks about whose voices are represented or silenced in setting the research agenda.”
“They constantly claim a 5% weight reduction improves health, when no weight loss is necessary to improve health.”
“They know almost nothing about the highest weight people because they don’t study us.”
“The headlines exaggerate and misrepresent the actual findings, and who has the time and access to look at all the papers?!”
And the most frequent complaint? “Correlation is not causality!”
So much wrong, so little time. So it ended up taking almost 3 minutes! Here is what we* came up with as a first pass at the subject. We hope you find it useful!
*Produced by Amy Herskowitz, script by Deb Burgard, animation and voiceover by Stacy Bias, project sponsored by the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH)
There’s a big problem at the center of our research on weight and health. What’s the problem? Well:
Picture a society made up of dogs. Let’s say poodles are the bossiest group. They’re the ones you see down at the doggie park barking at all the other dogs about how to live their lives in order to be healthy.
But the problem is, poodles think that every other kind of dog is just a really big or really small or really fat poodle, when actually, the other dogs aren’t even poodles at all – they’re terriers and mastiffs and greyhounds and labs.
And all the thousands of different dog breeds have different lifespans and different health risks. Each one has evolved to use food differently, for different specialties at surviving: some for staying warm, some for running fast, some for being strong. They’re meant to be different sizes and weights.
So the poodles think the mastiffs should lose weight, but a starving mastiff never becomes a poodle. The poodles don’t understand that dogs come in many more sizes than they can imagine in their poodle-centric ways.
So this becomes a problem when it comes to poodle science. When the poodles did their weight-and-health research, and made the claim that “lighter dogs are healthier and live longer,” they weren’t comparing thinner poodles and fatter poodles; they were comparing poodles and mastiffs. So the recommendation for mastiffs to lose weight is based on the false assumption that if all the dogs reach poodle weight, all the dogs would have poodle health. But once again, a starved mastiff just isn’t a poodle.
This poodle science doesn’t even test whether a starved mastiff lives longer than a mastiff who has enough to eat, because one would have to compare mastiffs who maintain poodle weight to mastiffs that maintain mastiff weight. And it turns out that starving mastiffs regain weight – which after all is a much better thing than starving. But the poodles can only see that regain as a failure of mastiff self-discipline.
Look, poodles are great, but poodle-centric health policy is a nightmare.
Good science tells us that it is better to recognize and respect the ways we are different, because how we’re treated, having good friends, and having access to decent food, a place to play, restful sleep, and medical care make a huge difference in our health and longevity, for all of us, whatever our size.[Headline image: The photograph shows a white poodle standing in front of grass and trees with red and green leaves.]