You've probably heard some gleeful gloating lately about how death rates from obesity were grossly overstated in research released last year, and that it now seems that slightly overweight people might actually have a lower risk of death than normal-weight folks.
If you haven't heard it yet, you will. Over and over and over, probably. Just keep in mind that numbers can be crunched a lot of different ways, and the folks at the Centers for Disease Control will no doubt keep crunching them.
But while the jury is still out, ask yourself this: "If obesity is only the 7th leading cause of preventable death, instead of the 2nd, does that make it any easier for me to breathe when I'm climbing the stairs?"
The new numbers and conclusions, understandably, may be more welcome by more of the public. The Journal of the American Medical Association in April published the new research from the CDC, and it seems to contradict the previous finding that nearly 400,000 Americans a year die because of their excess weight.
Health Risk Of Obesity: The new data suggest that the actual number is closer to 110,000 each year, and once that is adjusted for some statistical advantages of a little extra weight, the number drops to around 25,000.
Hey, you may be wondering, just what does that mean, "statistical advantages?"
Good question. Mark Twain's cynical reflection on number crunching comes to mind.
"There are three kinds of lies," he said. "Lies, damn lies and statistics."
Indeed, some contemporary cynics are hailing the new CDC research as evidence that all the previous research linking obesity and early death was the result of some vast, health-fixated conspiracy. The reality is more prosaic: newer data and more sophisticated analysis probably just produced different results.
But it's not even just that, according to the authors of the new research.
"The impact of obesity on mortality may have decreased over time, perhaps because of improvements in public health and medical care," they wrote.
And maybe there's the rub. Because more and more people in America are more and more overweight. And obesity causes all sorts of medical problems for most people. These things aren't disputed. But it's also true that, on the whole, we're also getting better and better at taking care of ourselves, no matter what our size or condition.
Health Risk Of Obesity: Tremendous resources have been devoted to examining the causes and consequences of Americans' eating habits and burgeoning weight over the last couple decades. In that period, we've advanced by leaps and bounds in our understanding of heart disease, diabetes, exercise, genetics, medicines, nutrition and lifestyle factors that play into the whole complex issue.
And it's not idle study. Treatments are being developed even as new data are gathered and analyzed. All the science is evolving, and everything happens so much more quickly today that it's almost impossible to try to get all the latest information to coalesce into one comprehensive overarching Truth, with a capital T.