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Archive for August, 2008

Scanning through blog after blog, a common theme floods the month of August. Several entries appear to cite this article or some other article that follows the same story. I read through the article and the wording throughout struck me to be quite odd.

In the study, about 51 percent of overweight adults, or roughly 36 million people nationwide, had mostly normal levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, blood fats called triglycerides and blood sugar.

Almost one-third of obese adults, or nearly 20 million people, also were in this healthy range, meaning that none or only one of those measures was abnormal.

Yet about a fourth of adults in the recommended-weight range had unhealthy levels of at least two of these measures. That means 16 million of them are at risk for heart problems.

The wording appears to compare healthy to unhealthy. Most comparisons make a clear point by showing the contrast between like things. In any case, I later found this to be how the original journal article was also worded. I decided to stop reading journalists’ take on the paper and decided to show the data from it directly.

 

The following chart shows the percentage of people that have risk factors associated with heart disease.
  Normal Weight Overweight Obese
20-34 years old 10.3% 52.3%
35-49 years old 16.9%  – 68.9%
50-64 years old 41.7%  – 79.6%
65-79 years old 54.7%  – 85.7%
80+ years old 56.2%  – 77.1%
20+ years old 23.5% 48.7% 68.3%

Unfortunately the journal article did not mention age specific percents for the overweight category.

Looking at the data in that form one does not see obesity as equaling unhealthiness, just significantly MORE unhealthy than being a normal weight. Also the risk factors affect the obese at a very young age. This should have been what most of the news sources were reporting. Instead we saw headlines like “Some Obese Individuals Appear ‘Metabolically Healthy,’ Without Increased Cardiovascular Risk,” “Half of overweight adults may be heart-healthy,” or “Overweight doesn’t always mean heart risks.”

The news spread like mad into blogs and with that came several entries like this. Browsing through the comments one quickly sees how the majority feels that they fall into the obese but HEALTHY category (statistics from the study shows otherwise). The sad fact remains that this study only focused on ONE aspect of health. Who knows what other diseases follow similar trends. 

In any case, the study shows that not everyone lives a healthy lifestyle (regardless of size). BMI remains an archaic method of determining health. Childhood obesity needs to be addressed, as potential risk factors are significantly higher for obese children.

Living a high quality life free from disease may be impossible, but cutting risk factors can aid you in the goal. This study shows that losing weight can help.

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The CDC ranks Alabama as the 2nd heaviest state with 30.3 % of the population having a BMI of over 30. The state has decided to give state employees a lose weight or pay ultimatum. The state employees (~40,000) have a year to lose weight or start paying $25 a month toward their usually free plan. The Alabama program will go by the body mass index chart — anyone with a BMI over 35 will be charged. 

Alabama, which already charges smokers, will be the first state to charge overweight state workers who don’t work on slimming down, while a handful of other states reward employees who adopt healthy behaviors. The State Employees’ Insurance Board this week approved the plan to charge state workers starting in January 2010 if they don’t have free health screenings.

If the screenings turn up serious problems with blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose or obesity, employees will have a year to see a doctor at no cost, enroll in a wellness program, or take steps on their own to improve their health. If they show progress in a follow-up screening, they won’t be charged. But if they don’t, they must pay starting in January 2011.

William Ashmore, executive director of the State Employees’ Insurance Board, said research shows someone with a body mass index of 35 to 39 generates $1,748 more in annual medical expenses than someone with a BMI less than 25, considered normal.

“It’s terrible,” said health department employee Chequla Motley. “Some people come into this world big.”

“The state will feel good about itself for offering something and the person of size will end up paying $300 a year for the bad luck of having a chronic disease his/her state-sponsored insurance program failed to cover in an appropriate and meaningful fashion,” said Walter Lindstrom, founder of the Obesity Law and Advocacy Center in California.

Computer technician Tim Colley already pays $24 a month for being a smoker and doesn’t like the idea of another charge.  “It’s too Big Brotherish,” he said.

E-K. Daufin of Montgomery, a college professor and founder of Love Your Body, Love Yourself, which holds body acceptance workshops, said the new policy will be stressful for people like her. “I’m big and beautiful and doing my best to keep my stress levels down so I can stay healthy. That’s big, not lazy, not a glutton and certainly not deserving of the pompous, poisonous disrespect served up daily to those of us with more bounce to the ounce.”

The major problem I have with this idea stems from a recent study that showed that ~70% of “obese” people and about ~24% of “normal” weight people have health conditions that were commonly associated with obesity. Weight serves as an indicator of health but it does not appear to be the best indicator of health. Since they screen everyone, simply charging those with health abnormalities might be the fair way to approach this issue. 

It should be interesting to see how this ends up.

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If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.
-Buddhist saying

We live in a largely individualistic society. Our culture emphasizes self-sufficiency and control in the pursuit of achieving individual goals. We must make an effort to guard against the tendency to focus on ourselves to the exclusion of our fellow human beings. The tendency towards selfishness rather than giving.

I’m not saying we all follow this, it simply happens, through busy work schedules, stressful events, and just our hectic lives in general. Even for those of us that follow a self-centered approach, helping others has its own advantages:

  1. It makes you feel better about yourself.
  2. It connects you with another human while helping them.
  3. Improves the state of the world.
  4. Your good deed could lead to a chain of good deeds.
By no means does helping have to be a production, simple signs that we acknowledge the existence of other people might be enough to make someone feel a little better. Volunteer, donate, teach, help, listen, smile, and most importantly, love. Let’s make this world a better place, put a smile on someone’s face.
 

8/18/08 – 4.1 miles in 00:35:18
8/16/08 – 6.42 miles in 01:01:21

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Advances in medical science paired with behavioral and social changes has led to an increase in life expectancy and lowered death rates. With these advances unlikely to stop, quality of life becomes the focal point.

A 21-year study examined the effects of running on disability and mortality rates of adults over 50. At the start of the study in 1984, many scientists thought vigorous exercise would do older people more harm than good. Some feared the long-term effects of the then “new” jogging craze would be floods of orthopedic injuries, with older runners permanently hobbled by their exercise habit. Emeritus Prof. of Medicine James Fries came up with a hypothesis called Compression of Morbidity, which holds that healthy lifestyles will not only prolong survival, but will also decrease the number of years with disability.

The researchers at Stanford began tracking 538 runners from a running club over age 50, comparing them to a similar group of non-runners. The subjects answered yearly questionnaires about their ability to perform everyday activities such as walking, dressing and grooming, getting out of a chair and gripping objects (this served to assess disability). The researchers used national death records to learn which participants died along with the cause of death. Nineteen years into the study, 34 percent of the non-runners had died, compared to only 15 percent of the runners. Death rates were higher in every category {Cancers, Cardiovascular (strokes and coronary artery disease), Neurological, and Infections (Pneumonia)} for non-runners when compared to the runners. 

On average both groups in the study became more disabled after 21 years of aging, but for runners the onset of disability started later. “Runners’ initial disability was 16 years later than non-runners,’” Fries said. “By and large, the runners have stayed healthy.” Not only did running delay disability, but the gap between runners’ and non-runners’ abilities got bigger with time.  

A companion paper also debunked the long standing myth that runners have a higher prevalence of knee and joint problems. The paper also showed that running was not associated with greater rates of osteoarthritis in their elderly runners. Runners  in the study did not require more total knee replacements than non-runners.  

The basic message of the study states that exercise at any age helps reduce disabilities while increasing longevity. That said, the overall feeling of well being and the reduction of tensions as a result running would have been more than enough reason to continue my running habit. Being a relative newcomer (1 year) myself, I will post some tips on how to start running and keep at it. 

 

8/14/08 – 2.32 miles in 18:15 (7:51 per mile pace)

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WordPress opens a world of discovery, the streams of passionate and knowledgeable writing flows endlessly. Amidst this river of ideas, being a strong proponent of health and well-being, I encountered several Fat Acceptance blogs under the health section (Shapely Prose, Junkfood Science, & Eat a Cheeseburger). Having become an ardent reader of these blogs, opinions bounce around my head waiting to be released. Many of these blogs seem to be intolerable of outside opinions so my thoughts/comments remain unpublished, this will serve as my outlet.

The concepts proposed by most FA websites promote self-confidence, with a call to end societal pressures to obtain THE ‘ideal’ body presented by the media. The sites also address the ineffectiveness of dieting and the potential dangers resulting from it. They deal with obesity as a human rights issue with a call to end all size related discrimination. All these valid points serve a wonderful purpose and can enrich the lives of many people. 

On the surface everything seems perfectly normal, but when one peruses the comments and reads some of the eating habits promoted by the sites, one quickly sees the detrimental impact. On numerous occasions people write what can only be labeled as careless eating habits. Claiming that if you want something go ahead and have it. While I am not against the mentality of eating whatever one wants, one needs to realize that overeating never serves a good purpose. 

Many FA sites spew contradictions. I have observed people claiming that weight loss as an impossible, unreasonable goal. Most argue that they live a fat but fit lifestyle exercising regularly and eating well. Yet they also take pride in reckless eating. Some go further insisting that excess weight is harmless to health.

FA sites urge acceptance of something that can be changed–excess weight–while trying to change what they cannot: the reality of its health risks. To be sure, some of us are born with larger bone structures, or lower metabolisms but few of us were born to be obese. We can change how much we exercise and what foods we choose. Unlike acceptance, these choices require effort. Let’s put forth the effort and help each other. 

 

8/03/08 – 5.53 miles in 50:53

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Most people strive to become financially stable to the point of spending all their time on leisure activities. Money paves the way for such a lifestyle… freedom — from work, money worries, household chores and screaming kids. Free to veg out, watching a large-screen plasma TV or playing golf all day. 

According to research by Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize-winning behavioral economist, quoted in an article in the Washington Post, “being wealthy is often a powerful predictor that people spend less time doing pleasurable things and more time doing compulsory things and feeling stressed.”

People who make less than $20,000 a year… spend more than a third of their time in passive leisure—watching television, for example. Those making more than $100,000 spent less than one-fifth of their time in this way—putting their legs up and relaxing. Rich people spent much more time commuting and engaging in activities that were required as opposed to optional. The richest people spent nearly twice as much time as the poorest people in leisure activities that were active, structured and often stressful—shopping, child care and exercise.

It turns out that wealth is a predictor (i.e., not necessarily a cause or effect) that people will spend less time on passive leisure activities (such as watching TV).  

A few things to note from the study:

  • Poor was anyone making <$20,000
  • Even though the wealthy spend more time with stressful activities, they report being happier in general (though not by as much as one would expect).
  • Past the point of poverty, one’s happiness stays relatively stable throughout the $30,000 – $100,000+ income range.
  • Increases in income are expected to raise well-being by raising consumption opportunities but these material possessions only offer short term pleasure
  • People’s aspirations adapt to their possibilities (people always want more).
  • There is a weak relation between income and global life satisfaction.
There are several holes in the study but in general, people with above-average income are relatively satisfied with their lives but are barely happier than others in moment-to-moment experience, they also tend to be more tense, and do not spend more time in particularly enjoyable activities (though I argue that active leisure is extremely pleasurable and I don’t find watching TV that pleasurable).

I say all one has to take from this study is to focus less on income and live life to the fullest (whatever your definition of fullest is). Here’s a little tip though, no one achieves goals by sitting around a television set.

The entire journal article can be found here.

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