Monday, March 19, 2012

The Obesity Paradox

local, caught Hawaii Ahi (Tuna)
A recent study on health and obesity had the usual finding that obese people had better longevity than normal weight or thin people. For over a century insurance companies have been using weight as a way to determine longevity; people within the BMI (Body Mass Index based on weight and height) range of 18 to 24 have historically outlived obese people by a decade or more. Now a new study claims the opposite to be true; people with BMIs up to 40 are living longer than people with BMIs under 25. This health paradox of increased longevity for obese people began less than 20 years ago.

As strange as this new finding seems to us, there are things about it that ring true with our own experience of obesity. When we moved to Santa Cruz County in the mid-1990’s we were able to buy fresh foods from local farmers.  Over ten years, the farms were replaced by housing developments and our sources of fresh fruits and vegetables disappeared. At the same time that our nutritious fresh foods disappeared, our appetites became insatiable. Even after huge meals, we were often still ravenous. We were hungry for something that we used to get in our food but was lacking no matter how much we ate. On vacations to Hawaii, however, our experience of hunger was different. After a few days of gorging ourselves on fish and fruit, we felt full even after small meals and if we were able to stay in Hawaii long enough, we started to  lose weight.   We suspect the foods we were eating in California had less nutrition as compared to the foods in Hawaii.

If foods are less nutritionally dense than they use to be, then it makes sense that people that over eat will be healthier than those that do not because they are actually getting the nutrition they need. Thin people, living on box foods and fast foods, may actually be significantly under nourished which leads to disease and susceptibility to illnesses. Interestingly,  anorexia nervosa has become a more deadly eating disorder, possibly because of less nutrition in food.

Since moving to Hawaii Island, we are able to get the fresh foods that we use to get in Santa Cruz plus many other fresh foods like fish and grass-fed beef that were harder to find there.  Eating local foods has allowed us to eat substantially less than we use to eat in California and have a wonderful feeling of fullness.  We are convinced our highly nutritious, small meals of fresh local foods allows us to be healthy even though we are no longer obese. 


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kontki said...

I think to add to that topic, that the mainland's constant shift in weather, especially the temperature changes has a huge impact on diet intake and digestion, thus health. Along with the higher rates of living indoors due to weather that's too cold or too hot effects weight and health and finally as you mentioned our abundance of cheap and empty calorie foods and restaurants that compete with the few and expensive farmer's markets and Health food stores.
Hawai’i’s moderate warm climate, lends to a more consistent year round daily intake of food and of course the weather is conducive to more exercise without even trying.

Interesting though about the weight/longevity statistics. I'm just wondering if there are some missing variables that could be skewing these results?