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Why Women Need Fat

Salon.com posted an article today, "Why Women Need Fat,", subtitled "Evolution shows that women's dieting beliefs aren't just unrealistic -- they're unnatural. An expert explains," by Hannah Tepper.

It's a review of a new book called “Why Women Need Fat,” by Steven J.C. Gaulin, an evolutionary biologist, and William D. Lassek, a retired doctor of public health at the University of Pittsburgh. The article features some nutritional theorising (omega 6 acids are the villain), and the idea that Americans as a group are heavier than we should be is dutifully reinforced.

Be that as it may, set point theory - the idea that our bodies have a certain weight or weight range that they tend to gravitate toward - is presented as a well supported idea among evolutionary biologists and it's acknowledged that human beings naturally have a wide range of set point weights. While it seems that the book is aimed at women (because we are more likely to indulge in weight loss dieting), it's hinted that the author has a slightly different take on men and fat.

Many M.D.s have bought this fallacious line that the optimal weight for women in terms of their health is what M.D.s call normal weight, a BMI between 18.5 and 25. And they have thought this to be true because women with higher BMIs exhibit a series of physiological measures that are indeed risk factors for disease in men. But they are not systematically risk factors for disease in women. If you actually look at the data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and data from studies done in other countries, the optimal weight for women who have had a kid is what doctors currently call “overweight.”

The next line? "I’m not saying that obesity is optimal..." Well, we certainly wouldn't want to promote obesity! However, implying that a 30+ BMI can be natural and healthy is not at all the same thing as saying "obesity is optimal." Given anti-fat bigots' typical (lack of) reasoning skills, I guess he had to cover his ass on that one.

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AndyJo's picture
AndyJo
December 19th, 2011 | Link | If the guy had not covered

If the guy had not covered his ass, I have to wonder if the article would have been published (never mind the book).

That said, I think the theories are fascinating. I had heard of all of these before, including the Omega 6 theory. It is interesting, but I really don't like it when researchers try to tell me that X is the culprit. It is probably more like a whole bunch of X, Y, Z all put together.

Then there is also the extent to which Americans are actually fatter. As measured by what? Perhaps it is in the book they wrote, but if they are using the BMI... Then the data needs to be combed through with a fine tooth comb. How are they accounting for the shift in 1998? How are they going about finding data to compare over the longer time period?

--Andy Jo--

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