Happiness Is a Bagel Away

How food and nutrition impact our mood and behavior.

Are fat people as healthy as thin?

Fat versus thin? Last week, the obesity debate raged on.

It was a bad week for fruits and vegetables.

In a new study, published on April 6, 2010 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, European researchers found that a high intake of fresh produce had little effect on the rate of cancer in men and women.

Perhaps most titillating about this conclusion is the respectable way the researchers went about structuring their study. For one, the researchers crafted a prospective cohort study to answer their research question. This is in contrast to the smaller, possibly less objective, case-control format that most studies showing an overwhelming association between high salad intake and its protective benefits against cancer utilized. In addition, researchers monitored a large sample of European men and women. They monitored about 500,000, over the course of 8 years, from 1992 to 2000. After following this group for nearly a decade, the scientists concluded that, at best, there was a weak link between a high intake of fresh produce and a decrease in cancer risk.

Reactions to the study have been mixed. Some argue that the study doesn't take into account the detrimental health effects a lack of fruits-and-veggie intake can have on someone who subsists entirely on processed, high-fat-Big Macs. Others contend that the study doesn't specifically look at types of produce consumed. There's not much evidence that iceberg lettuce can thwart cancer, but broccoli may.

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Far away from the academic community, a second discussion also took aim at the presumptions of a healthy diet. In the pop cultural arena, there was Dr. Phil, broadcasting a two-day series called The Ultimate Fat Debate , where obese leaders of such organizations as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance faced off against the National Action Against Obesity, and fitness/diet gurus. The obese people claimed that they were unfairly ostracized by a thin-obsessed culture and they too were in fact as healthy and happy as those with a normal BMI. The audience often appeared to agree.

But I don't. Both the study and the TV programs are more likely aberrations than the new norm. Study after study shows that a high fruits and veggie intake, and a BMI in normal range, is related to lower risk of heart disease, cancer and their related complications. The big European study only looked at fruits and veggie intake alone and not how it relates to other healthy practices, like exercise. The pro-obese conflate how weight connected to vanity or social acceptance is linked to health. Skinny fat people (those who are of normal body weight but have high body fat percentages) are also at risk of disease if they're not adding exercise to build muscle into their daily regime.

Bottom line: we're fatter than our parents or grandparents. We're producing younger generations of obese. This is impacting our life expectancy and shortening our lives. This is also featured in tomorrow's International Journal of Obesity. Hopefully this will be a better week for the salad-eating crowd.

Erinn Bucklan is a New York City-based journalist who writes regularly about nutrition, diet, food behavior, and fitness.

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