Consider the various bits of advice doled out by so-called medical experts in the past 100 years or so and you’ll realise how often there has been a complete about-turn when it comes to the validity of a certain fact, claim, or practice.
At one time or another, scientists deemed it acceptable to use X-rays to measure shoe size, recommended baby formula over breast milk and even endorsed cigarette smoking.
Looking back, it seems incredible that we were ever misled in this way and yet I believe that we are currently subject to one of the greatest misconceptions of all — the belief that obesity is necessarily bad for us.
Our modern culture has duped us into thinking excess body fat should be burned away at all costs.
But, as a cardiologist who has been in practice for nearly three decades and written more than 800 medical publications, including two text books, I am here to tell you that fatness has been sorely misunderstood.
Indeed, there is much evidence to suggest that, just as a glass of wine a day has been proven to impart health benefits, so body fat in the right amount can be exactly what we need to live long and healthy lives.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that people of ‘normal’ weight start embracing cream buns and piling on the pounds.
But if you are already carrying extra fat, it’s not the end of the world, especially if you maintain a certain level of fitness (and I don’t mean being able to run a six-minute mile or committing to an exercise regimen on a par with an Olympic athlete’s).
For the millions of people categorised as overweight or mildly obese by the most commonly used standard today — the body mass index, or BMI — the good news is that achieving optimal health may mean staying exactly where you are in terms of weight.
That’s right: you don’t have to set your sights on getting your BMI down to ‘normal’, defined by the World Health Organisation as between 18.5 and 25.
You may, in fact, be much better off sustaining a BMI of between 25 and 30 — ‘overweight’ in WHO terms — or even slightly above, venturing into the realm of the mildly ‘obese’ (BMI above 30).
This advice holds true for people who want to prevent chronic illness and those already living with it, but it was those in the latter category who first inspired my research into this subject more than a decade ago.
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