Healthy at Every Size

Scientists estimate that about 1 in 3 children in the Houston area are medically overweight or obese. Doctors urge us to lose weight, and fashion magazines tempt us to look thin. But a University of Houston sociology professor has just published an article asking us to take another look at what it means to be fat. From the KUHF NewsLab, Melissa Galvez has the story.

Every day, hundreds of sneaker and sweat-pants clad students enter this temple of fitness, the University of Houston gym.  Some come because they want "Michelle Obama arms"; others just to "lose a few pounds".  But University of Houston sociology professor Samantha Kwan wants us to take a step back and ask: "Is fat, in and of itself, always unhealthy?  Is it always unattractive?"

"Fat is a social construction. It changes depending on where you are and your time in history.  So we know in the 17th century, with Rubens and these portraits of more voluptuous women, that this was considered attractive."

Doctors usually use the Body Mass Index to decide whether a person is overweight or obese.  If you're overweight, you may be at higher risk for diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Kwan doesn't dispute that a high BMI is bad news, but she wants to shed light on other ways of looking at fat.  For example, there's the Health At Every Size movement:

"There are researchers out there who say "Let's move away from weight fixation, and look at metabolic health, which is a model of health that's not based on weight, but instead, lifestyle.  Eating right, and getting good exercise, lowering stress…it's not about just losing weight"

This may be news to people who try fad diets in the name of dropping 20 pounds.  But, it turns out, it fits nicely with what doctors actually think about fat and health.  Here's Baylor College of Medicine pediatrician Dr. Sarah Barlow:

"There's terrible stigma against people with excess weight, and that's really not what we should be focusing on, appearance…but health.  Although I'd like to see improved weight, what I really focus on is healthier eating and more active lifestyle"

It seems that the students at the gym are actually getting the message.  When asked what it means to be healthy, almost all of them said that eating right and exercising were key, not weight. This is senior Stephanie Garcia:

"I think it might be a state of mind, really.  Once you have that state of mind, you're going to go towards that goal of eating right, exercising, making sure that your diet is what it should be."

From the KUHF NewsLab, I'm Melissa Galvez.