Sometimes I just hate science.
No, I don’t mean to pose a “why-try-to-save-lives-with-knowledge?” motif.
Consider all the important things we didn’t know until the moment when we did know. Try living in 1939 before penicillin was discovered, or the day before Jonas Salk told us his team had a vaccine for polio.
Science is knowledge, and knowledge saves lives and always will.
But science can be frustrating, especially in the interpreting because the easier headline can be accurate, but it’s not always truthful. Sometimes we grapple only with a deceptive partial fact. No one ever demands we make sure of the context, where the truth actually lives.
An old friend in journalism once told me about the difference between facts and truth. They often intersect, but they’re not always the same thing.
Here’s the headline of the day making the media rounds. “A few extra pounds may tack on a few additional years to a person's lifespan, surprising new research suggests.”
Every nutritionist in the world had a fainting spell with that news.
The findings from senior scientists at the Centers for Disease Control say that people who were deemed slightly overweight were less likely to die a premature death even than normal weight people. However, study participants who were obese were significantly more likely to die earlier than their normal weight counterparts, which suggests being a bit overweight can be a good thing.
What this seems to say is: Go ahead and have two extra doughnuts this morning. That pudgy life preserver around your waste might actually save your life.
The CDC’s pronouncement comes from statistical survey of those with different Body Mass Indexes, the main way doctor tell if you are overweight. All things being equal, women with a waist size of 35 inches or larger and men who need a size 40 belt are at risk.
The researchers have no clear understanding why moderately overweight people live 6 percent longer than those with normal BMI. Maybe fat somehow protects the heart. If that were true, it would be a kick in the head to many people.
Or maybe very overweight patients always wait too long to visit a doctor so everyone else seems statistically healthier.
But consider what is the missing “truth” in these news facts.
First, no one plans life in order to be slightly overweight, because if you were smart enough to pull off that trick (and dedicated enough to stick to the dietary rules), you’d much more likely choose to be fit.
If you are severely overweight, you didn’t plan that either. It’s just what happens when you eat too much, eat the wrong things too often, and fail to control your life stress or never exercise. Sometimes it’s genetic predisposition. Usually it’s a combination of all five factors.
What the study ignores is that life is not a statistical accumulation, and how we live most usually is an accident of habits. Statistics are averages. No one is truly average. It’s a mathematical illusion.
If you could be fit, tan, well muscled and never pack an unwanted ounce without even working at it, you probably would be that fit. But let’s face it. You aren’t. That’s why there’s a multi-billion dollar industry in diet books and weight-loss programs.
So what good is knowing that being moderately overweight is a potentially good outcome? Nobody has a plan to be moderately overweight.
If you knew what that plan was, you’d have put down the second doughnut long before now.
Who am I, and why would a person listen to me? Both fair questions. I’m Christine Hammerlund and I’ve been a nurse for years. I have delivered babies, saved lives, and cared for hundreds of patients through their medical triumphs and tragedies. Now I run Assured Healthcare at http://www.assuredhealthcare.com. We're a multi-million dollar medical staff provider in Illinois. I live in Antioch, Ill. Got health questions for me, whether large or small? I’ll answer. Visit us at http://www.facebook.com/AssuredHealthcareStaffing and Chrishammerlund@yahoo.com