Saturday, January 30, 2010

Over 70 and Overweight May Add Years to Life


Despite the warnings that being overweight will kill you, a new Australian study finds that overweight adults over the age of 70 are less likely to die over a 10-year period than their normal-weight peers.

The study, published Jan. 28 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, conflicts with research that suggests that being overweight contributes to a long list of health problems, including heart disease.

"Our study suggests that those people who survive to age 70 in reasonable health have a different set of risks and benefits associated with the amount of body fat to younger people," lead researcher Leon Flicker, of the University of Western Australia, said in a news release from the journal's publisher.

Flicker and colleagues looked at a decade's worth of data regarding the health of more than 9,200 Australians aged 70 to 75 in 1996 when the study began. Australia is ranked as the third most obese country in the world after the United States and the United Kingdom, the study authors noted.

The study defined overweight and obesity levels based on body mass index, a measurement that takes weight and height into account. The four weight categories used in the study included underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese.

Those who were overweight -- a step below obese -- faced a 13 percent lower risk of death compared with those who were normal weight. But there was no benefit found for those who were obese, the study authors noted.

The researchers also found that being sedentary doubled the risk of death for women and raised it by one-quarter for men. According to the study authors, it may be time to reevaluate the system that determines who is overweight and obese.


Ridiculing the obese is the new gay bashing

British society has become far more enlightened over sexuality and race. Now we reserve our contempt for the underclass

My son begged me to switch the show off. “It’s too cruel,” he said. But that seemed to be the point of Fat Families. “You make me feel sick,” said the smug presenter as the obese couple looked forlornly at their takeaway supper. Later they were stripped naked — she weeping, he head bowed — while the camera boggled obscenely at their bodies. I hope they were well paid, this good-hearted pair, who clearly loved their kids and each other. What price to be paraded as an object of hatred and disgust.

A public health message? No, this was the All-New Fat & White Minstrel Show. The obese are the last group — should you feel enraged today by a parking penalty or Blair — at which you can vent your fury with legal and social impunity. A friend mentioned, en passant, chastising a man for letting his dog pee copiously over her doorstep. “P*** off, you fat bitch,” was his automatic response. I was aghast, she was nonplussed: as a largish lady she dealt with this (and worse) every day.

This week the British Social Attitudes survey revealed our greater toleration of homosexuality: only a third of us now think gay love is wrong. Which still seems mighty high to me, yet only 20 years ago this figure was double. Gay men are still violently assaulted, name-calling is too infrequently challenged in schools, but these days homophobia is rarely given full vent in the national media. And if it is — as with Jan Moir’s article — a powerful and righteous lobby will unleash all hell.

But sometimes it feels as if the anger and intolerance upon our angry, always up-for-a-fight island, is just being funnelled to other targets: the fat, the poor, the white trash, the chavs and pikeys, the underclass on the fringes of society who we loathe almost as much as we fear.

Outsiders are always easiest to hate. When gay culture was confined to the margins, it was simple to caricature and condemn. After all, it was unlikely you’d meet anyone to disprove your view. The great progress of the past decade was gay relationships ceasing to be subject to saucy speculation but becoming normal, banal even. The once-separate straight and gay worlds have meshed. When my lovely lesbian sister-in-law had a baby with a gay man, I’d wondered how to explain this scenario to my elderly northern parents, so sheltered were their lives. I was stupid to worry.

Love and babies, the warmth of real human contact, breaks down suspicion of The Other. After one hilarious Christmas karaoke night my eightysomething mother reflected simply: “Well, I’d never met any gays before. But they all seem very nice.” And when I was interviewing the American writer David Sedaris recently he marvelled at how parents bring 14-year-old sons along to his book signings: “Meet Doug,” they might say. “He’s gay.” Sedaris’s own tortured, confused and utterly closeted teenage self would have marvelled at this casually acknowledged truth.

At this time when our respect for the political process has never been lower, few will acknowledge the wonder when government does something right. The creation of civil partnerships in 2005 not only dignified and formalised gay relationships but acted as a catalyst for further change. Moreover, it signalled that the British culture war was over. Run up the flag: the forces of tolerance had won.

It was a long, bitter conflict, fought all through the Thatcher years, when it was the ugly, snarling, bullying tap-room bigotry more than any economic policies that made many loathe our Government. This was not so much a clash of policies, but about what constitutes full humanity. Peter Lilley was getting belly laughs with his conference ditty against single mums; disgust against homosexuality led to the creation of Clause 28, banning discussion of same sex relationships in school for fear that predatory gays would stalk our kids.

That the Tory party is run now by social liberals sometimes boggles the mind. Can people change that easily? Only seven years ago David Cameron voted to keep Clause 28, but now he has apologised, declared his intent to reward not only marriage in the tax system but civil partnerships too.

And Baroness Warsi who, when I asked her why she sent out anti-gay literature when she was standing in Dewsbury in the 2005 election, said: “I have learnt, read more; my views have matured since then.” Maybe they have. Even Elton John’s arch tormentor, the former Sun Editor Kelvin MacKenzie, claims these days to be a friend of the gays.

Or maybe Cameron realises that laissez faire morality is so deeply entrenched that there is no point in fighting it. And besides, why go against the grain when you can go with the flow? While our social attitudes have grown more liberal, our economic views have hardened into conservatism: only a bare majority now believe it is the Government’s job to secure employment for all or to ensure the unemployed have a decent standard of living.

Indeed, as racism and homophobia have become ever more verboten, there has been a corresponding growth in intolerance for the poor, a disgust at their lifestyle, an ugly, lazy disdain for those who live in council estates, who have scary dogs and babies too young, a licensed mocking of their yeah-but-no-but speech and culture. I grow tired of arguing with well-brought-up children of liberal parents that “chav” is a disgusting, reductive label, that the kids who live in the flats behind our house are not — apart from the amount of stuff they own — so different from them. How depressing that even 12-year-olds see society set into two separately entrenched tribes.

But it is fine now to believe that the underclass only has itself to blame for its educational failures, and laziness keeps families on the dole. And there they are, paraded on those circuses of disgust: Big Brother and Jeremy Kyle. Or on that whole new TV genre, the obesity freak show: Fat Families, The World’s Fattest Man, Too Fat Too Young ... All feign concern when their only object is to poke ridicule at the stupid chavs unable to stop shoving kebabs into their face even when it’s killing them.

Obesity is, above all, a mark of poverty: a handy melding of our social and bodily disgust, No, these days we may not bash so many poofs. But there is still plenty of sport to be had watching a 20st woman in a wedding dress that will never fit, weeping her heart out with shame.


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