From men’s health
The question of whether a person’s weight or body shape can be considered a reliable indicator of health has long been a matter of debate. A recent tweet from Piers Morgan re-ignited him. In his post, Morgan shared one of a number of Cosmopolitan front pages with fitness enthusiasts with a range of body shapes not normally associated with the world of wellbeing.
“That is healthy!” proclaims the cover.
“No, it isn’t. And given that obesity is a major reason many have serious illnesses, this coverage is shamefully irresponsible,” Morgan replied.
To begin with, to address his initial claim, there is evidence that obesity or a high BMI is linked to increased disease severity with COVID-19. But there is also evidence that a person with asthma, for example, has an increased risk of illness from the virus. Does this preclude all asthmatics from serving as positive role models in the pursuit of better health?
What constitutes “healthy” is a complicated subject. Of course there are our eating and exercise habits. But we also need to consider our stress level, our social connections, our sleep quality and whether we smoke or not, not all of which are guaranteed to tip the scales.
Even the term “fit” is a bit fuzzy. Every normal athlete will have noticed that the leanest athletes are not always the fastest, strongest, or most mobile.
A few years ago I met Dr. Adam Collins, a nutrition and metabolism expert at the University of Surrey, was interviewed on the very same subject. “The relationship between BMI and metabolic health is not linear,” he told me. “By adopting healthy habits, a person with obesity can make significant improvements without visibly losing weight.”
He referred me to a study analysis published in Obesity Reviews which concluded that a person classified as overweight may have normal blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and insulin levels, although this is obviously not always the case. Likewise, it is believed that an estimated 18% of lean people are metabolically unhealthy.
The story goes on
As for Morgan’s point of view that images of fat people exercising can be viewed as unhealthy, I admit that I find this point of view confusing. “Fitness” is not one of the thin ones. Promoting physical activity as a path to better physical, mental, and spiritual well-being can only ever be a good thing, regardless of the attorney’s body shape.
One of the most inspiring stories I’ve been working on recently involves a man named Maynor De Leon who weighs 30 stones but can deadlift a barbell or medicine ball far more skillfully than I (and possibly you, too). True, De Leon is working to lose weight. But I would argue that if he never shifted a pound again, he would remain a role model for his commitment to staying active and his openness to the issue of male mental health. Furthermore, the fitness pictures he posts on social media are not inspirational despite his size, but rather include them.
I understand that our publication regularly produces content related to weight loss or the pursuit of a more muscular body. That’s because these are still things a lot of people want to achieve and it is our job to advocate safe, sustainable solutions.
I do not see the provision of weight loss advice as an antithesis to body positivity movement. For some people, it can even be lifesaving. But I can also understand that the pursuit of a healthier perspective and lifestyle doesn’t start and end with the number of the scale. It can mean training for your first marathon, discovering a passion for cooking, and even starting therapy.
So I would say yes. This is a version of “healthy”.
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