Chubby People Live Longer


fat boyA Japanese study concluded that skinny people have shorter life expectancy rates and that people who were slightly overweight had the longest life expectancy. Those who conducted the study don’t offer very many answers as to their conclusion, but the potential causes are worth exploring.

The study compared four weight groups, all based on body mass index (BMI). Although they expected that skinny people would have a shorter life expectancy, they were surprised to find that the rate was six to seven years shorter than slightly overweight people.

I wonder whether the causes for this result are two-fold: physical and psychological. The physical aspect is perhaps more obvious. Very thin people are not necessarily eating healthy food. When I think of very thin people, I think of dieters or sick people. In either case, they are not getting the nutrients necessary for healthy, long life.

What’s ironic is that these characteristics are not all that different from the obese. They may be eating much more; however, they too are more likely to be eating junk food and other foods that don’t contain much nutritional value.

Perhaps “slightly overweight” people are better labeled “normal” eaters. These may be people who think about eating right but are not fixated on food one way or the other. They make exceptions and eat dessert and drink alcohol once in a while. They probably eat what they like most of the time, just not excessively.

I may be completely wrong in my assessment of those three groups. But I don’t think so. What may matter as much as the physical and health consequences of their food choices is the psychology behind those choices. I’m no psychiatrist, but I’ve lived enough life and, especially as a woman, seen enough “food issues” that I believe I can see the other reasons behind the shorter life expectancy.

Both skinny people and obese people have unhealthy relationships with food. Often that’s a consequence of something stressful in another area of their lives. Food is one area to control if there’s an area that is devastatingly out of control. This is true of anorexic women; the vast majority have grown up with something out of control or “out of order” in their families. Limiting or eliminating food becomes a dysfunctional way to find order. That’s an extreme scenario, but nevertheless, a person’s health is sacrificed for some sense of what things ought to be like. Women are notorious for fixating on body image, and the media sure doesn’t help much! But when the image becomes a mission and a fixation, it’s not healthy for the body or the mind. And life expectancy is not just a product of what we put into our bodies but how we maintain our souls. Stress is just as damaging as junk food, if not worse.

Many in the obese category use food in the same way, as a tool to control or an object of comfort. Honestly, you don’t have to be obese to use food as comfort. There’s nothing wrong with comfort food once in a while. It’s when it becomes the rule and not the exception that we run into problems. But, as with the very thin, the problem is both physical and emotional. Food is just the medicine that the obese take to try to cope with stress or problems in their lives.

In both cases, the habits turn into unhealthy lifestyles. It’s the “slightly overweight” group that may simply be too content and carefree to care that much about food one way or the other. So in many ways the Japanese study has nothing to do with food at all and everything to do with a healthy lifestyle and emotional well being. When those are in place, food is not an issue.

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