Wednesday, December 5, 2007

NPR News: Fitness a better indicator of health than fat

Hooray for the U.S.'s National Public Radio! On All Things Considered last night, a news story covered a fitness and mortality study which was published in JAMA:

"A long-term study has tracked the exercise and death rates of a few thousand Americans beginning at age 60. The new findings break those older Americans down into five groups, from the most fit to the least. Researchers documented 32 deaths per 1,000 people over the course of a year in the least fit group. This compares with 16 deaths in the group that was just slightly more fit, and eight deaths in the most-fit category"

The best part of the story was that a national news organization has finally and publicly admitted the lack of correlation between weight and fitness:

"The men and women in Blair's study may be a little more fit than older Americans in general. But among the group there were a fair number of overweight and obese participants, including individuals with a body-mass index, or BMI, of 35 and above.
"There's a sizable number, nearly half, who are fit and proved it on the treadmill test." says Blair. "So you can't tell by looking at someone whether they're physically fit.""

And everywhere, a million money-grubbing diet industry gurus cry out in a single voice.."No! Say it ain't So!"

But then, perhaps in reaction to habit, perhaps to keep the guns against him at bay so that he's not relegated instantly to the back shelf as some kind of crazy-liberal-radical, Blair stops short in his conclusion, reverting to the usual rhetoric:

"I believe we have an obesity epidemic. It's a bad sign. We should not ignore obesity," Blair said. "But what happens all too often is we focus nearly exclusively on obesity and forget the activity and fitness part." "

Most of the media coverage are emphasizing that particular quote, and the Reuter's story being distributed goes on to quote the usual CDC silliness about all the horrible things obesity is supposed to cause. Perhaps that is their attempt at removing "bias" by offering more than one viewpoint? I haven't noticed that the media cares much about offering more than one viewpoint when the article is Sizist, so why start now?

Well let's take the good we can get. When looking for more coverage on this story I found that they didn't just measure BMI when splitting participants into categories, but also included body fat percentage and waist circumference. Which means that this may be one of the first really good studies that really proves that you can be fit regardless of weight. Even better, that getting fit doesn't necessarily include losing weight:

""If you're overweight or obese and you're sedentary and unfit and you start taking three 10-minute walks a day and you do that at least five days a week, you're not going to lose an enormous amount of weight," Blair said.
"You're going to still be heavy. But you're going to be much healthier if you do that," Blair said."

Really, that's a pretty radical admission from someone in medical research, and I think we should take the study, even some of the more biased coverage of it, as a big fat positive :-)

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