All shapes and sizes

I don't have much to say about this study, as the results kind of speak for themselves:

Common body mass index-associated variants confer risk of extreme obesity

"Our results suggest that [genetic] variants influencing BMI also contribute to severe obesity, a condition at the extreme of the phenotypic spectrum rather than a distinct condition."

So basically, genes have a lot to say about what you weigh. Not that environment has no effect whatsoever; that's not how genes work. But high weight may not be pathological at all. It may just be like being really fair (like me, who wears makeup in the shade of "ghost") or really dark-skinned. There are risks associated with each (skin cancer and rickets, respectively), but the skin color itself is relatively inconsequential.

Same with weight. It exists along a normal distribution, which means that although most people cluster around the average weight, there are people in either extreme. That's just the way the statistics work. Does our current environment of abundant food mean that the "average" weight hasn't shifted a bit? Not necessarily. It might have. But the distribution is the distribution, no matter where you pick "average" to be.

Weight ≠ pathology, obesity ≠ disease.

(h/t Gene Expression)

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Libby said...

Weight ≠ pathology, obesity ≠ disease

That would look great on a poster.

Dandelion said...

I don't think that the fact that genetics effects your weight can be used as an argument that obesity isn't pathological...
Obese people are 3 times more likely to have diabetes and hypertension... Not to mention musculoskeletal problems, heart disease, etc.
Not everyone needs to be a size zero, but a BMI of 40 may not be your best bet for health either.

Carrie Arnold said...


To some extent, you raise a really good point. Just like there are disease risks associated with light and dark skin colors (skin cancer and rickets), there are disease risks associated with different weights. Thin people are at high risk for osteoporosis, but that doesn't mean that lower BMIs are automatically unhealthy, just as light and dark skin aren't unhealthy by themselves.

I guess I just wanted to get at the fact that weights exist across a broad spectrum, and both high and low weights can be indicative of something phsyiologically wrong. But that might not always be the case. Even if it were, we don't know how to tell people how to lose weight and keep it off, and yo-yo dieting has healh risks, too.

Dandelion said...

I don't think skin color is a great analogy for obesity, but even going along with that analogy, you have to do the best you can with what genetics has doled out. If you have that pale complexion, the high SPF sunscreen is going to need to be a big part of your life. If you've got a slower metabolism, you may have to work harder than the average to maintain your weight.
There is a spectrum of healthy weights, though, which depends a lot of your bone frame as well as your fitness level.
We do know how to tell people to lose weight and keep it off, but people struggle to do it. It's hard to eat healthy and exercise on a consistent basis- and people don't like losing a pound per month, which is really the right pace to lose if you want to avoid the yo-yo effect. So, people try all sorts of crash diets in the hope of getting the weight off now. The average individual, though, can't subsist on a diet of grapefruit or keep up a pattern of four hours in the gym like in the Biggest Loser. So, people go back to their old patterns, gain back all the weight they'd lost, and then feel like there's no effective way to lose weight. It's a vicious cycle.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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