COLUMN: Measurements of health misleading

Obesity in the developed world is a major problem, but not all people are created equal.

If it was going to happen to someone, I’m somewhat glad it happened to a reporter.

I’m talking about the news segment which went viral earlier this week in which a television news anchor fired back at a viewer who e-mailed derogatory comments about her appearance.

For those who haven’t seen it, here’s the short version: a viewer called the newscaster fat and told her she had a responsibility to portray a healthy physique to her viewers.

As the anchor succinctly pointed out, the viewer rarely watched the program and had no personal basis for their criticism. It was a mean-spirited attack on a woman’s physical appearance.

You’d think after all those times women asked, do I look fat in this?, some of the wisdom learned from countless wrong answers would have trickled down.

Most reporters would’ve just filed that e-mail in the trash folder. We get a lot of those which criticize not only physical appearance but also intelligence, ethics and agenda. We’re used to it and better able to shrug it off than many people.

That’s one of the reasons that I’m glad this discussion started with a reporter because of her ability to put that criticism in perspective. The other is that she has a platform to publicly address the issue of health, body image and weight – and she used it.

Obesity in the developed world is a major problem, but not all people are created equal. Like our kindergarten teachers told us long ago, we’re all special and we’re all unique – obesity requires a solution tailored to individual needs.

While we look at the health risks associated with obesity, we should also look at what we use as measures for health.

One of my best friends has been a fitness leader for more than a decade. She’s in phenomenal shape, riding her mountain bike, running and participating in other activities up to six days a week.

She eats healthy, with her current research focusing on the benefits of raw food.

She is a fit, healthy woman, yet any doctor could point to a body-mass index chart and tell her she is overweight.

A similar story came out of the London Olympics this summer, where an Australian newspaper criticized one of the country’s swimmers for gaining weight. How a newspaper editor and reporters know more about weight, fitness and winning an Olympic gold medal than the swimmer or her coach is beyond me.

A study a few years ago fascinated me. In it, a researcher ate Twinkies and other sugary treats for an entire month. He supplemented his diet with fluids and multivitamins, staying within the recommended caloric intake for a man his size and age.

At the end, he’d lost weight.

Which led reporters to ask if the Twinkie diet was healthy. His reply stuck with me – the project didn’t show that a diet of Twinkies and multivitamins was healthy, but rather our measurements of health could be misleading or inaccurate.

Is the skinny person who eats nothing but chips and diet Coke healthier than someone 20-pounds overweight who regularly runs Westwood Lake?

So while we berate others – and more often ourselves – for indulging in that slice of chocolate cake, can we really tell just by looking at someone their state of health?

If you ask me whether you look fat in that outfit, you’ll get the same answer.

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