A century ago, Elsie Scheel was the perfect woman. So said a 1912 article in the New York Times about how Scheel, 24, was chosen by the “medical examiner of the 400 'coeds'” at Cornell University as a woman “whose very presence bespeaks perfect health.”
Scheel, however, was hardly model-thin. At 5-foot-7 and 171 pounds, she would, by today's medical standards, be clearly overweight. (Her body mass index was 27; 25 to 29.9 is overweight.)
Scientists have used imaging tests to show for the first time that fructose, a sugar that saturates the American diet, can trigger brain changes that may lead to overeating.
After drinking a fructose beverage, the brain doesn’t register the feeling of being full as it does when simple glucose is consumed, researchers found.
It’s a small study and does not prove that fructose or its relative, high-fructose corn syrup, can cause obesity, but experts say it adds evidence they may play a role.
These sugars often are added to processed foods and beverages, and consumption has risen dramatically since the 1970s along with obesity. A third of U.S. children and teens and more than two-thirds of adults are obese or overweight.
— The Associated Press
But a new report suggests that Scheel may have been onto something. The report on nearly 3 million people found that those whose BMI ranked them as overweight had less risk of dying than people of normal weight. And while obese people had a greater mortality risk overall, those at the lowest obesity level (BMI of 30 to 34.9) were not more likely to die than normal-weight people.
The report, although not the first to suggest this relationship between BMI and mortality, is by far the largest and most carefully done, analyzing nearly 100 studies, experts said.
But don't scrap those New Year's weight-loss resolutions and start gorging on fried foods or triple cheeseburgers. Experts not involved in the research said it suggested that overweight people need not panic unless they have other indicators of poor health and that depending on where fat is in the body, it might be protective or even nutritional for older or sicker people. But overall, piling on pounds and becoming more than slightly obese remains dangerous.
“We wouldn't want people to think, 'Well, I can take a pass and gain more weight,'” said Dr. George Blackburn, associate director of Harvard Medical School's nutrition division.
Rather, he and others said, the report suggests that BMI, a ratio of height to weight, should not be the only indicator of healthy weight. “Body mass index is an imperfect measure of the risk of mortality,” and factors like blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar must be considered, said Dr. Samuel Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Experts also said the data suggested that the definition of “normal” BMI, 18.5 to 24.9, should be revised, excluding its lowest weights.
The study did show that the two highest obesity categories (BMI of 35 and up) are at high risk. “Once you have higher obesity, the fat's in the fire,” Blackburn said.
Even if “being overweight doesn't increase your risk of dying,” Klein said, it “does increase your risk of having diabetes” or other conditions.
Ultimately, said the report's lead author, Katherine Flegal, a senior scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “the best weight might depend on the situation you're in.”
Take the perfect woman, Elsie Scheel, in whose “physical makeup there is not a single defect,” the Times article said. She loved sports and didn't consume candy, coffee or tea. But she also ate only three meals every two days, and loved beefsteak.