DOMINIC LAWSON: Putting on pounds might be good for some of us
DOMINIC LAWSON: I bring glad tidings ahead of the season of festive indulgence – putting on the pounds might be GOOD for some of us after all!
As the Christmas festivities gather pace, our thoughts turn to food and drink. The chillier the weather, the more these cheer us up, like a sort of internal winter warmer.
And yet there is a nagging inner voice, augmented by the diet industry and its associated proselytisers, telling us to be careful, not to overdo it, or even that there will be a price to pay for our seasonal indulgence — a price measured not in money but in our life expectancy.
For those made anxious by such warnings about festive over-indulgence, I bring glad tidings of great joy. The British Dietetic Association (BDA) has, as the New Scientist magazine puts it, ‘torn up the usual healthy weight advice’ — or at least it has for people over the age of 65.
Last week, the BDA told those of us deemed ‘overweight’ that losing some of our allegedly excess pounds might not be good for our health at all.
An NHS consultant dietitian, Alison Smith, who helped launch this initiative, pronounced that there are actually good reasons for many in this group to aim to put on weight: ‘By encouraging older adults to lose weight, you’re almost making them less resilient,’ she said.
Last week, the British Dietetic Association told those of us deemed ‘overweight’ that losing some of our allegedly excess pounds might not be good for our health at all, writes DOMINIC LAWSON
Her recommendation? ‘Eat well, exercise regularly and embrace it all. Eat and enjoy.’ The new BDA document (Eating, Drinking And Ageing Well) declares that even ‘if you are very overweight, losing weight may be good for your health but it is important to still eat a nutrient-rich diet’.
Message received and understood.
I speak as a 66-year-old who, at 5ft 10in in height and weighing in at 15 st, is technically just in the category of ‘obese’, according to the body mass index (BMI) tables. Though if I were to shed a few pounds, I would slide down into the less pejorative category of ‘overweight’.
But the whole BMI business is a bit of a nonsense, as it seems to take no account of how much of your weight is muscle and how much is, well, fat.
The BMI charts say that the ideal weight for me is 11½ stone. I don’t think I have been that since I was in my 20s. And the only time I got anywhere remotely near it, in more recent decades, the weight loss was as a result of illness, not dieting. I recently saw a photo of myself at the time: I looked dreadful.
This is part of the point of the new guidance. In our 60s, we are more prone to illness and we need those fatty tissues as a store of energy when appetite wanes.
In fact, I have been making the case for being overweight (so-called) ever since becoming aware of the real truth of the matter. This was in 2007, when the Journal of the American Medical Association published analysis of decades of data by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC’s conclusion was that being overweight ‘was associated with significantly decreased mortality overall’. As I wrote at the time, ‘That’s decreased, as in: the opposite of increased; later, not earlier; better, not worse; and pass the cream, please.’
It was highly significant that the report came from the CDC, as three years earlier the organisation had published a report in the same pre-eminent medical journal which claimed that ‘obesity’ was responsible for 400,000 deaths a year in the U.S.
It had huge influence, including in this country, creating a sort of moral panic, with our own health secretary claiming that the risks had been revealed as ‘a crisis on the scale of climate change’.
Just a year later, in 2005, the CDC published a new analysis of the same data, and admitted that it had completely miscalculated. It now said that the net number of obesity-related deaths in the U.S., annually, was not ‘400,000’ but ‘25,814’. Of course, this colossal downgrade attracted far less attention than the wildly overstated original figure.
In 2011, Nutrition Journal, a respected academic publication, concluded that among 350,000 randomly selected Americans, the ‘overweight’ were the longest-lived category, and those who are ‘obese’ in old age tend to live longer than those who are ‘thin’.
The lead researcher, by the name of Dr Linda Bacon, concluded: ‘It is overwhelmingly apparent that fat has been highly exaggerated as a risk for disease or decreased longevity.
‘For decades,’ she said, ‘the U.S. public health establishment and the $58.6 billion a year weight-loss industry have focused on health improvement through weight loss. The result is unprecedented levels of body dissatisfaction and failure in achieving desired health outcomes.’
I have been making the case for being overweight (so-called) ever since becoming aware of the real truth of the matter in 2007, when the Journal of the American Medical Association published analysis of decades of data by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
None of this is to deny that there are serious risks in being morbidly obese (the clue is in the adverb), quite apart from any aesthetic horror experienced by onlookers. But even in the super-size USA, only a little more than 3 per cent of the population is in that category.
Perhaps the most striking demonstration of the medical benefits of being ‘overweight’ (under the BMI criteria which the health industry use) was published in 2011 by researchers at the University of Virginia. They found that patients with a BMI of 23.1 or less were more than twice as likely to die within 30 days of surgery than those with an ‘obese’ BMI of 35.3 or more.
Now, there are still distinctions to be made between various categories of food in terms of which might do you the most good — though fatty meat has been unfairly stigmatised, when it is a very efficient way of getting the energy we need, as well as delicious. And my sister Nigella, the author of 13 cookery books, enthusiastically approves of it.
So, at this time of seasonal indulgence, we can do no better than to remember the words of that wisest of Old Testament preachers, in the book of Ecclesiastes: ‘Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry.’
Striking train drivers are Europe’s best paid
You can’t miss the note of malice in the press release put out by the train drivers’ union, Aslef, as it announced rolling strike action across the network which will last all this week.
It boasts that ‘the action is likely to bring Britain’s railways to a standstill’ and quotes its leader, Mick Whelan: ‘We have, in the past, called everyone out on the same day; by spreading the strike action . . . coupled with our ban on overtime across the week, the ramifications for the rail industry will be greater.’
The pay offer it rejected in April — 8 per cent over two years — would, as the Transport Secretary Mark Harper observes, take the average train drivers’ pay to £65,000 a year for a four-day, 35-hour week.
No wonder there’s a stampede of applications whenever a vacancy occurs.
You can’t miss the note of malice in the press release put out by the train drivers’ union, Aslef, as it announced rolling strike action across the network which will last all this week
Its leader Mick Whelan boasted that the spread-out strike’s ramifications on the railway network will be greater
In the South, there are roughly 300 applicants per train driver’s job advertised. In the North, around 750 applications are received for every driver’s job.
Or to put it another way: British train drivers are far and away the best-paid in Europe. A survey last year by the TV network Euronews showed monthly pay for British drivers at the time to be the equivalent of 5,542 euros a month. The next highest paid were Danish train drivers at 4,763 euros a month.
In third place were Irish train drivers at 3,173 euros a month. Lagging well behind were German and French train drivers, at just over 3,000 euros a month.
But Mr Whelan demands our sympathy for his allegedly oppressed men (fewer than 7 per cent of train drivers in the UK are women).
They’ll get little of that from those of us dependent on train travel and being driven only to despair.
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