It is undeniable that, on a social level, there is a stigma to being fat. What less people talk about is the stigma fat people face just when going to the doctor's office. If you walk in for your check-up, complaining of shortness of breath or achy joints, the doctor will probably tell you to lose weight. In actuality, any number of things can be wrong with you (even dangerous things like cancer) but the doctor came to a conclusion about your health the moment you walked into his or her office.
There are countless accounts of obese individuals being misdiagnosed. Many doctors say your health will improve should you try to get fit through exercise and weight loss. But this begs the question: is this true? Is it possible to be fat, but also healthy?
Correlation vs Causation
Before we proceed, we must discuss the difference between correlation and causation, and how misinterpreting this is not only foolish but also lethal.
Correlation means that two things happen side-by-side with one another. Causation means something directly causes a thing to happen. Now, it's easy to see how you can confuse the two, but it is also incredibly dangerous to your health.
For example, during the 90s, a study was done that concluded that vaccinations caused autism. This study was conducted by parents saying their kids took a vaccine, and became autistic. However, at no point during the study did the doctors study the chemical make up of the vaccines, or the brain chemistry of the children before and after the vaccines, nor any real physical evidence of causation.
The scientist made observations, and concluded "Because these kids took a vaccine and have autism, one must cause the other." They offered no tangible proof of the claim, but the claim was so sensational that people believed it anyway without ever questioning how they know that.
So how does this tie into fat being healthy?
Fat and Unhealthy, or Unhealthy Because Fat?
So it's an undeniable fact that many obese people are unhealthy. But, then again, so are a lot of skinny people. But when you start breaking down the common health issues associated with fat people, you start to see issues with the mindset that fat is inherently unhealthy.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (or NIDDK), being obese puts a person at risk for such diseases and conditions as Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, and high blood pressure. These are all serious issues that should not be taken likely, and studies do sho that there is a high correlation with being obese and experiencing these diseases.
Diet vs Fat
Type 1 Diabetes is something you're born with. Type 2 – you develop. But certain gene pools are more at risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes than others, so genetics has a huge part in this.
But the truth is that many obese people do become diabetic overtime. Many assumes this is caused by fat, but even the NIDDK admit they really have no idea if fat has anything to do with it. They say that the fat cells may alter the ways the body absorbs insulin, but there is another, more likely factor.
Being sedetary and having a diet of high fats and carbs is a likely cause for the insulin in your body to be unable to get where it's supposed to go. Same with high alcohol consumption. By cutting out unhealthy foods and engaging in regular physical activity, you put yourself in a healthy state.
But isn't that also what people say about obesity? To be healthy, you need to go on a diet and lose weight?
Well, yes. Diet and exercise is a remedy for body Type 2 Diabetes and being fat. But the difference is to approach it this way: the fat cells in our body probably don't give you diabetes. Studies have been done for years, and, while theories exist, there remains no definitive proof after years of study that fat itself is the enemy.
It's just that you can get fat if you eat greasy, crappy foods. So there's a correlation.
Again, looking at the other health risks of obesity – high blood pressure, heart disease. We see similar remedies. Change your diet. Exercise. Stay healthy.
But losing weight is correlated to diet and exercise. There are people who can work out a ton, but never lose weight. Are they just doomed for a life of unhealthiness because they can't lose weight, even though they eat right and exercise?
Healthy and Fat
The simple truth is that not only is the idea that fat is inherently the enemy short sighted, but also a mindset that puts your blinders on for the real obvious pieces of evidence to the contrary.
I'm talking about sumo wrestlers.
Sumo wrestlers are regularly far over 400 lbs. In fact, that's a shrimpy sumo wrestler. Yet studies performed on these tubby fighters proof that, despite their gargantuan body-mass indexes and incredible weights, they remained incredibly healthy into their senior years.
If heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes were caused by fat, this would be impossible.
The reason for sumo wrestlers' health is, ironically enough, the same reason for their massive sizes: diet and exercise. The training of a sumo wrestler makes these people fat, but also incredibly fit. The weight they gain is done in correlation with an incredibly intense exercise regimen. Despite their bodies being the picture of obesity, they are incredibly healthy.
And that's because they work out and eat right. Incredible amounts, but they aren't stuffing themselves with carbs.
And it's not just sumo wrestlers. Studies conducted by the University of South Carolina in Columbia proved that exercise is the key to longer life. They compared people of similar weights and fat contents, comparing the health issues to those who were physically fit compared to those who were not. With little exception, the people who kept fit and moved around were far healthier than those who did not.
The difference is that sedentary people tend to also be fat. But fat people are not necessarily sedentary. Again, causation versus correlation.
But Body Fat Can Cause Issues
But there are health benefits to being fitter. And it all correlates specifically on your body fat.
Body fat gathers especially around the belly in men. As a result, too much body fat can press up against the organs. This can put a strain on the intestines and organs unguarded by the ribcage. This can put a strain on the heart, and, thus, cause problems.
In addition, sleep apnea can be affected by body fat pressing down on your throat.
So, yes, body fat can be problematic. It can cause issues.
But the biggest issue is misdiagnosis. As doctors latch onto fat as a health risk, many doctors have been known to misdiagnose fat people. There are an increasingly large number of obese and fat people who went to their doctor with symptoms the doctor assumed without checking were caused by their weight, only for said patients to almost (or actually) die from undiagnosed health risks unrelated to their body fat.
The sad thing is that, yes, there is a stigma against fat people. Even more than Type-2 Diabetes, this is the greatest risk to an obese person's health: doctors making assumptions.
Because, yes, you can be fat and healthy, but that doesn't mean doctors realize that.