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Don’t get fat in middle age…


The Nurses’ Study is an American longitudinal study of, yes, nurses. Over 120,000 were recruited in 1976 when aged 30–55, and they’ve been followed up ever since, with information about lifestyle and health regularly collected by postal questionnaire. The latest findings, published in the BMJ, which concern the influence of weight and weight gain on staying healthy, are however, based on only 17,000 of the initial cohort who were free of chronic disease at baseline and who survived to at least the age of 70. Rather unsurprisingly, women who were lean in 1976 and who stayed lean had the best outcome, while women who were fat, or who started lean but gained weight, did worst.’ (OnMedica 091009)

Oh well, we’re all stuffed then, I guess. Overweight and over the hill. Might as well give up and go home, eh?

Well no, actually. There is more to life than size.

We have to play the hand we are dealt in life. So many of us are born healthy and large and, though we are raised eating sensibly and lead active lives, spend our time filling the wallets of the gym-owners and diet quacks because we absorb the ambient messages about needing to be slim. Heaven knows how much money and pain my mother expended on diet cures… She was a kind, intelligent, strong woman, still is…95 years old yesterday… but it is sad that so many years of her life were spent filling the kitchen cupboards with slimming paraphernalia.

The Nurses’ Study findings probably say a lot about the cohort and lifestyles of nurses who lived through the post-war affluence of America in the 50s and 60s. We have copied too much of that society and we need to stop. It is possible to have a happy, healthy, caring society, where all shapes and sizes of people are valued.

For centuries and in most countries outside the indulgent west, to be well-padded has been an indicator of longevity and robust good health. Isn’t it time that we recognised that our recent concern with slimming is an aberration? The old truths apply: no-one wants to be morbidly obese, but surely we need to encourage people to be strong, questioning, healthy and happy… not just lean.

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