The new body news

First you have the body news and its development. You learn about BMI and its relation to the relevant whatever. Analyses are done to show why the symptom is implicated in the disease. You hear about solutions if you are one of those with a real problem. You start to notice who among your friends has the problem and how worried they seem. Whatever it is, your doctor assures you that you will have less of a problem if you lose weight.

And then five or ten years later, you learn the new body news: the old body news was completely wrong. For example, from the NY Times, March 22, 2011:

A major new analysis challenges the long-held idea that obese people who carry their extra weight mainly around the middle — those with an “apple” shape — are at greater risk for heart disease than “pears,” whose fat tends to cluster on their thighs and buttocks. …
Conventional risk factors like blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and smoking were accurate predictors of a heart attack or stroke, but additional information about weight or body shape (ascertained by measuring waist circumference or waist-to-hip ratio) did not improve the ability to predict risk.

“Whatever your shape is doesn’t really matter,” said Dr. Emanuele Di Angelantonio, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge and a member of the Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration, which carried out the study.

9 thoughts on “The new body news

  1. It seems to me that this “new body news” doesn’t at all contradict the major important message of the “old body news” which is, of course: obese and overweight people will have better health and less “real problems” if they begin a regular regime of exercise and lose some weight. Whatever the importance of the shape (apple, pear, whatever) of your body, I have yet to see anything scientific disputing the traditional wisdom that being overweight will lead to greater health problems (as will being underweight. There is a healthy balance.)

  2. It is true, Dani, that it does not contradict all the advice, but it does contradict one major piece of that advice, which was considered a new and important discovery..

    One can be only mildly overweight and still an apple. It used to be that was a BAD THIING. Now it is not.

  3. Havn’t there been some recent studies showing that the people who live the longest are those who are in the “overweight” BMI category?

    Strangely we still call that category the “overweight” category–though assuming a (the?) primary health goal BMI is supposed to indicate is longevity, in what sense are the people living longest “over” weight? Wouldn’t they be at the ideal weight and “normal” weight people are actually not as heavy as they ideally should be if they want to live as long as possible?

  4. The real issue with the apple shape is whether the fat is intra-abdominal or subcutaneous – ie, fat surrounding the internal organs which makes a hard gut, or fat beneath the skin which makes the soft squishy gut – the first one is associated with metabolic disorders and heart disease, the second one is unhealthy and will wreck the body in the long-term, but the risk of diabetes and heart disease is lower

    we have known this for years – an apple shape with a squishy gut is no more at risk than a pear with rounded thighs

    best indicators: blood pressure, cholesterol ratio (not total #, but good to bad), c-reactive protein levels, and then total body fat – BMI is only a guess

  5. @philfemgal Not to my knowledge. There is some significant evidence, however, that people who live the longest are thin as hell. They engage in caloric restriction diets. If you can find some good scientific evidence that suggests being overweight is somehow good for your lifespan, please do provide it here. But in any case, it’s simply utterly foolish and absurd to suppose that maximizing lifespan is the sole criterion upon which “being healthy” should be based. Perhaps you can maximize your lifespan by turning yourself into a long-lived semi-comatose vegetable. Great. Healthy you!

  6. @William – thank you! I hadn’t heard that distinction; everything I’d seen had implied that “apple” automatically meant the inter-abdominal kind.

    *relieved to be a “squishy apple” who is not overweight and has low-normal blood pressure*

  7. In fact there are lots of version of the folowing are on the ‘net:

    In a study of individuals in their seventies, those with the best chances of survival had BMI’s that were 25-27 kg/m (women). One of the interesting discoveries in aging research is that pounds that are added to your hips are not as detrimental to your health and longevity as pounds added to your waistline. All the evidence shows that it’s better to resemble a pear than an apple. The pear-shaped figures of the women  probably did not cause them any serious health problems. However, the massive beer bellies carry with them a significant health risk.

  8. @anon.

    It’s the study talked about here ( that I’m thinking of. I never saw the actual study, don’t know if it was well done or has been replicated. I just remember seeing *a lot* of news about it a few years ago. (I also am seeing hits from 2010 for a study about elderly people living longer if they overweight–maybe what jj is quoting.)

    I agree, though, that mere longevity is a horrible criterion for health.

  9. “A major new analysis…” “Whatever your shape is doesn’t really matter.” yes, major.

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