Saturday, January 22, 2011

A world full of risk

I wasn't researching anything in particular; just catching up on some of my favourite blogs and following links I thought might be of interest. One link caught my eye, and following up on it took me to the Science Daily web site.

The Science Daily piece was titled “Being Overweight Just As Risky To Health As Being A Smoker”.

According to the article “Obese adolescents have the same risk of premature death in adulthood as people who smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day, while those who are overweight have the same risk as less heavy smokers, according to research published on the British Medical Journal website.” Uh-huh.

Apparently, being overweight at the age of 18 increases the risk of premature death by just over a third, while being obese more than doubles the risk. The gist of the article was that, unless you wanted to kick the bucket prematurely (what, exactly, does premature mean, I wonder), you'd better sign up for a membership at Jenny Craig's.

Then, just as I was prepared to move along, I spotted another link to an article titled: “Be Overweight And Live Longer, German Study Suggests.” Since this article appeared to contradict the one I'd just finished reading, I had to check it out.

The second article noted: “Contrary to what was previously assumed, being overweight is not increasing the overall death rate in the German population. Matthias Lenz of the Faculty of Mathematics, Computer Science, and Natural Sciences of the University of Hamburg and his co-authors present these and other results in the current issue of Deutsches Ă„rtzeblatt International.”

The German Study claims that being overweight does not increase death rates (premature or otherwise), although obesity does increase them by 20%. Fortunately, the study also notes that, as people grow older, obesity makes less and less difference.

Since I'm only 8 or 10 pounds overweight, the apparent contradictions in these two studies don't really bother me. I'm getting too old to die young, at any rate. And besides, I'm already destined to die of a smoking related disease.

So, I think I'll believe the German study. That way, I can have the occasional beer without worrying that I'll pack on the pounds and die prematurely. It's nice to have a choice in these matters.

But, the subject matter seems to be of great importance to some young people. For example, another article on the same website is entitled: “Reducing Suicidal Behaviors Among Adolescents.”

This one, by Inas Rashad, an assistant professor of economics at Georgia State University, claims that adolescent girls who perceive themselves as too fat are more likely to commit Hari-Kiri than girls who are, in fact, overweight. “Although studies have shown a link between obesity, depressive disorders and suicidal behaviors, Rashad and Dhaval Dave of Bentley University, analyze these indicators in conjunction with an individual's perception of their weight.”

The article notes: “The study revealed that body dissatisfaction had a strong impact on all suicidal behaviors for girls and was generally insignificant for males.”

Another article on the same topic, “Teens Who Think They’re Overweight More Likely To Try Suicide”, tends to agree. Well, almost.

Monica Swahn, Ph.D.,lead author of the second study, noted that: “Our findings show that both perceived and actual overweight increase risk for suicide attempt.” The only discrepancy is that the Swahn study concluded that the “association was as strong for boys as for girls, contrary to what the researchers had originally expected.”

So, being overweight may, or may not, shorten your life. But, just thinking you're overweight might cause you to jump off a tall building or throw yourself in front of a subway train. Interesting.

Apparently, there are risks every where. It's enough to make a man want to lock the doors, park his ass in his favourite armchair and let the rest of the world go by.

But, then again, that might not be such a good idea. There's another study on the Science Daily site which claims: “More Time Spent Sitting Linked to Higher Risk of Death; Risk Found to Be Independent of Physical Activity Level”. Uh-huh. A study which claims too much sitting can kill you.

Researchers “found that more leisure time spent sitting was associated with higher risk of mortality, particularly in women. Women who reported more than six hours per day of sitting were 37 percent more likely to die during the time period studied than those who sat fewer than 3 hours a day. Men who sat more than 6 hours a day were 18 percent more likely to die than those who sat fewer than 3 hours per day. The association remained virtually unchanged after adjusting for physical activity level. Associations were stronger for cardiovascular disease mortality than for cancer mortality.”

Now, there's a potential confounder I'll bet the EPA and the US Surgeon General never took into consideration in their secondhand smoke studies. Imagine. The excess mortality among spouses being attributed to secondhand smoke exposure may have been due to an excess of female couch potatoes in the cohort exposed to secondhand smoke.

Ain't science grand?

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