Rise of the extra-wide home sapiens
If you looked in the mirror recently and saw someone too big looking back, don’t worry.
The World Obesity Foundation is now reporting the world population is on track to make that individual the global norm by 2035, and if you happen to live in the U.S., that person is already in the majority.
All U.S. states, according to the lastest from the Trust for America’s Health, are today dominated by overweight and obese adults with the percentage of the populations ranging from 55.4 percent in the District of Columbia to 73.5 percent in the state of West Virginia where more than 40 percent of the population has gone beyond overweight to reach obesity.
To get there, a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher is required. The average American male – who now stands 5 feet, 9 inches tall – needs to reach 203 pounds to achieve that BMI, and an average American woman – who now stands 5 feet, 4 inches tall – needs to get to 175.
To reach “severe obesity,” which a quarter of West Virginians are now reported to have achieved, a BMI of 40 is required. That puts the average height man at about 270 and the average height woman at just over 230.
And, of course, the required BMI increases with height. A 6-foot male needs to get to 295 pounds to qualify as seriously obese.
BMI, it has been recognized, is prejudiced against men, who tend to have both larger bones and more muscle mass than women, and some have suggested a comparison of waist circumference to height might be a better measure of the now well-documented risks of being overweight.
A Rand Corporation study concluded that waist size was a better indicator of diabetes risk in the U.S. than BMI. Diabetes is one of several major health problems that have been linked to being overweight or obese, and Rand investigators were trying to figure out why diabetes is about twice as common among middle-aged and older Americans than among residents of the United Kingdom (UK).
They decided the problem was the American gut. The American gut and diabetes are among a variety of obesity-linked issues that result in the U.S. spending over twice as much on health care as the British only to end up with a middle-aged population less healthy, according to Medical News Today.
The Rand researchers, working with colleagues from the University College London and the London-based Institute For Fiscal Studies, concluded that belly fat, of which Americans have more than Brits, is a telltale for diabetes, which would suggest – to paraphrase the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart – that while it might be hard to define who is problematically overweight, you can tell it when you see it.
How fast do you move?
And if you can’t tell whose in trouble by looking, just take your overweight/obese friend – or any friend for that matter (or yourself) – for a walk.
British researchers looking at walking pace back in 2018 discovered that slow walkers had a 20 percent greater risk of all-cause mortality than average or brisk/fast pace walkers and a nearly 25 percent greater risk of death from heart disease.
Their peer-reviewed study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, followed on a 2017 peer-reviewed study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that found people who cycled to work or walked to work cut their risks of death by cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 52 percent and 36 percent respectively.
The latter study involved 263,450 participants from the UK Biobank who, according to the study, were “relatively representative of the general population for age, sex, ethnicity, and deprivation within the age range” of 40 to 69 years old with an average of 52.
The authors conceded their sample might have contained a “healthy volunteers selection bias” and thus underrepresented those with obesity and comorbidities, but adding more such participants known to be prone to an early death because of pre-existing health conditions would only serve to further increase the health gains linking to incorporating more physical activity into daily life.
And then along came the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.
That led researchers in the UK to once again turn to the nation’s Biobank to look at the association between fitness and pandemic outcomes. The differences between the fast walkers and the slow walkers were in this case even more startling.
After examining the files for 412,595 Biobank participants with an average of 68 – putting the participants in the age group far and away most like to die from Covid-`19 – scientists calculated that “compared to normal weight brisk walkers,” a normal weight slow walker had a 2.42 times greater risk of coming down with a severe infection and a 3.75 times greater risk of death.
Brisk walkers were defined as those moving at a speed greater than 4 mph or 15 minutes per mile. Average pace walkers were those defined as doing 3 mph (20 minutes per mile) to 4 mph. Slow walkers were those doing under 3 mph.
Overweight and obese participants in the study had significantly higher risks of severe Covid-19 and death than normal-weight participants, but a faster walking pace served to help zero that out.
Fast-walking overweight people turned out to be at less risk than slow walkers of normal weight.
“Slow walkers had the highest risk regardless of obesity status,” concluded the study, which was published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Obesity in 2021. “Self-reported slow walkers appear to be a high-risk group for severe COVID-19 outcomes independent of obesity.”
Mountain of evidence
All available evidence now indicates beyond a shadow of a doubt that getting the residents of the Western world up and moving would not only ensure longer lives, but it would also ensure healthier ones.
And yet public policy in the U.S. at least remains focused on making motorized transportation ever easier, which almost ensures people move less, and trying to maintain health with technological innovations.
The mRNA vaccines intended to diminish the potency of SARS-CoV=2 infections are but the latest effort to find a shot or a pill to all the things that now ail Americans while little is done to try to alter the fundamental problem of unhealthy lifestyles.
The program has run into predictable opposition from those who have generally come to believe that it should be a “right” to drive everywhere, preferably as easily and as fast as possible. But active travel plans are still moving forward.
The French are pursuing what they call an “energy transition scenario” in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and in the belief “these changes could have important health co-benefits,” according to analysts studying the country’s negaWatt program to encourage walking, cycling and E-biking.
“…We quantified that the negaWatt scenario would prevent 9,797 annual premature deaths in 2045 and translate into a three-month increase in life expectancy in the general population,” they reported in the International Journal of Public Health last year. “These health gains would generate €34 billion of economic benefits from 2045 onwards.”
U.S. efforts to improve the health of Americans have, meanwhile, focused largely on drugs, advertisements for which now flood the nation’s TV screens, and vaccines. The new vaccines to combat the SARS-CoV-2 virus are credited for a significant reduction in Covid-19 deaths over the past two years.
But one does have to wonder about the country’s vaccination-for-everything strategy in light of what was learned early in the pandemic about the importance of so-called “naive” T-cells in battling a wholly new disease.
This is all a part of a complicated human immune system that has evolved over the course of several hundred thousand years and appears to require a certain amount of regular physical exercise to maintain its production of T cells, especially as humans age.
Too much good thing
It has been theorized, though the subject is highly debated, that homo sapiens have a “finite amount of immunological space” wherein “antigen-naive cells could be ‘used up’ due to ongoing differentiation into memory cells that ‘fill up’ immunological ‘space,'” as researchers observed in a peer-reviewed study in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity in 2017.
What vaccines do is help convert naive cells into memory cells, and there are reasons to wonder if there comes a point at which too many vaccines lead to a shift in naive to memory cells that could make it harder for humans to battle the next new pathogen to emerge on the planet.
But it’s hard to predict the long-term consequences of our technological messing with evolution because the future remains unknown.
What is known for sure at this time, however, is that “overweight or obese individuals are at a greater risk of viral and bacterial infections, have longer stays in hospital, and exhibit more frequent and prolonged complications, such as antibiotic treatment failure,” as the report in Cellular Longevity noted.
How much of that is a direct effect of being overweight/obese and how much is related to the fact most overweight/obese people are also out of shape is hard to say. Scientists have yet to reach a consensus on that subject.
A long-running fit-but-fat debate still rages with some arguing it is possible to be fit but fat and others contending there is some limit to overweight at which body size trumps fitness.
A 2021 examination of the health records of more than a half million Spaniards aged 18 to 64 years old published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology early last year concluded that physical activity (PA) could not “completely negate the deleterious effects of overweight/obesity,” but the authors of that report conceded that another study had found “that PA was associated with a larger reduction in the odds of 10-year CVD risk than having a normal weight.”
The best thing is obviously to be physically fit and of normal weight, but if weight maintenance is a problem, as it is for many, better to be physically fit and overweight than to be overweight and out of shape.
If anyone cares.
There does not seem to be great concern about fitness or weight in the U.S. given the joint and continuing trends of those of normal weight moving into the overweight category and those already overweight moving into the obese category.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) labeled this “The Obesity Epidemic” in 2011, but almost nothing has been done to counter it in the dozen years since. Americans have just grown fatter and more out of shape.
Not even the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has preyed heavily on those who are fat, out-of-shape or saddled with co-morbidities tied to a lifetime of lethargy, has shown any sign of motivating changes in behavior. The message still doesn’t seem to be getting through that if Americans truly want a healthier country they need to get off their asses and move.
But then again, it’s so much easier to pop a pill or get a shot….