Eat Fat To Lose Fat?

Lynne Kiesling

Obesity has been much in the news lately, with last month’s study that indicates prior CDC extreme overestimates of the negative effects of obesity. Economist Steven Levitt waggishly observed that the information made eating fatty foods cheaper. And on these very pages I mused about the French paradox.

Today comes two interesting additions to the discussion. First, an article by Cathy Young in Reason puts the “fatophobia” backlash into some perspective:

The study didn’t say that you don’t need to exercise. Nor did the study say that severe obesity is harmless: Its death toll was estimated at 112,000 a year. (The 25,000 figure was obtained by subtracting the estimated 86,000 fewer deaths among the moderately overweight compared to people of “normal” weight.) The researchers concluded that being more than 40 pounds overweight is indeed hazardous. Yet the activists who agitate for “fat acceptance” want us to believe there’s nothing wrong with 400 pounds of excess fat.

One thing that I would add to all of these discussions is that an individual’s ability to process fatty foods is so, well, individual that you can’t draw blanket conclusions from any of these studies. And I am not convinced that medical research methodology does a sufficient job of correcting statistically for un-modeled heterogeneity in subject populations, so their results don’t correct for these individual differences.

The Boston Globe provides useful chronology of the CDC obesity study controversy.

There is also another new study suggesting that the body needs new fat to get rid of old fat. Very interesting.

Semenkovich and his colleagues were surprised by their results.

“We thought we would alter the levels of fats that circulate in blood,” he said. “Instead we found you need to generate new fat to make a signal to burn fat in the liver.”

This study suggests two useful things: why fish oils, olive oil, and other “good fats” are consistent with good health, and a mechanism through which the Atkins diet works.

So it sounds like we are back to the common sense advice: moderation, exercise, sleep …

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