“Health News” Is Neither Healthy Nor News + Real Health News That You Probably Missed This Week

Last week, “health news” outlets widely reported this study that found that fat people with metabolic abnormalities, when studied over a 10 year period, seem to show more cognitive decline than thin or fat people without those abnormalities.

Health News Checklist From Body Love Wellness I could go on and on about the fact that this is not a controlled study and doesn’t account for things that might be causing this decline other than fat, like fat stigma and pharmaceuticals etc.

But today, I want to talk about the way this study was reported, not the study itself.

Why “Health News” Is Usually Bad News

Let’s look at MSN Health, for example. The original article on MSN Health was so hate-filled and misleading that an editor must have finally revised it to make it slightly more accurate. I wish I could get access to that original posting, but at the very least this facebook preview from the Rolls Not Trolls group says it all.

This is how “health news” outlets like MSN Health reported the study:
being fat makes you dumber from facebook preview with circleEven though MSN eventually changed the text of the article, they kept both the inaccurate title and the image of the mostly headless fatty holding a donut. Kudos, MSN for not letting fact checking get in the way of your hit count!

The Other Study That Came Out This Week That “Health News” Outlets Didn’t Bother To Cover

So is it any wonder that this other study, which found that fat doesn’t kill and being fat may actually have a protective effect when it comes to diabetes, got swept under the rug by “health news” outlets this week?

Here’s a quote from this study that may blow your mind.

“After adjusting for diabetes and hypertension, severe obesity was no longer associated with mortality, and milder obesity was associated with decreased mortality. There was a significant interaction between diabetes (but not hypertension) and BMI, such that the mortality risk of diabetes was lower among mildly and severely obese persons than among those in lower BMI categories.”

In other words, fat doesn’t kill you. If you don’t have diabetes or hypertension, and you’re fat, even really, really fat, your life expectancy is no different than a thin person. And if you have diabetes, being fat actually lengthens your life expectancy.

Hmm. So why would this study, which had a sample size of over eight times that other, widely reported study, get so little mention in the press?

Could it be because, as I wrote last week, the idea that fat is bad and weight loss works is the result of advertising, not science?

Perhaps it wasn’t reported because, if fatness isn’t dangerous or unhealthy or bad for you, then everyone from diet companies to diet pill manufacturers to weight loss surgery implant manufacturers to weight loss surgeons to Dr. Oz to women’s magazines to diet book gurus to anti-obesity researchers to the hacks at MSN Health would have to find some other way to make a living?!

This is hugely important health news that news outlets never bothered to cover. They didn’t cover it because if people actually knew about it, it would kill the weight loss business.

The diet industry alone makes over $60 billion a year here in the U.S. and much of that money is funneled back into the economy in the form of advertising. Perhaps some “news outlets” would go under without those monthly checks from Weight Watchers. I can’t be sure of that, but this much is clear: the news industry has an interest in keeping the weight loss industry thriving.

What You Can Do

1) Follow The Money – When you see a fat bashing article online or in print, take a look at the rest of the page, site or periodical. How many diet-related ads do you see? How many references or links to weight loss products do you notice? You may be shocked by what you find.

2) Ignore Or Comment – When you see “articles” that say that fat is bad and weight loss is the answer, feel free to ignore them. You know that they’re not the truth, and won’t contribute to your mental health. Alternatively, dig a little deeper and see if the cited study lines up with the article. The study itself may have bias too, so see if you notice that as well. And remember, very often, “health news” is neither healthy nor news. Feel free to comment and give ’em heck for bad reporting.

3) Practice HAES® – When you look at studies that are not funded by the diet industry, again and again it becomes clear that fat is not a death sentence and it’s not a curse. Embracing the body that you have–nourishing it, loving it, moving it in ways that feel good–is truly the healthiest thing you can do. This is the essence of HAES®. You have the right to live a big, beautiful life in the body you have right now.

Golda is a certified holistic health counselor and founder of Body Love Wellness, a program designed for plus-sized women who are fed up with dieting and want support to stop obsessing about food and weight. To learn more about Golda and how she can help, click here.

3 replies on ““Health News” Is Neither Healthy Nor News + Real Health News That You Probably Missed This Week”

Hmm. I’ve heard plenty about the 2nd study (obesity and mortality), but not the 1st (obesity and cognition). MSN had articles on both (, so I’m not sure that either of these got “swept under the rug.” I have problems with both studies and the associated reporting, though.

Obviously, that MSN article sucked. But the general problem with science reporting is that writers often try to give context that isn’t there. They also disregard a lot of qualifiers present in the original conclusions and don’t really pay attention to the details. The third problem, what you’re guilty of here TBH, is putting higher importance/ reduced criticism on the studies whose conclusions you don’t agree with. Compare this comment: “I could go on and on about the fact that this is not a controlled study and doesn’t account for things that might be causing this decline other than fat, like fat stigma and pharmaceuticals etc.” to this one: “fat doesn’t kill and being fat may actually have a protective effect when it comes to diabetes.” And I’m not sure what you mean about dismissing a study b/c it is “not a controlled study?”

Since I can’t read the full article on cognition and obesity, I’ll focus on the major problem with the Jerant and Franks study on BMI, mortality, and diabetes/hypertension and associated reporting.

1) The implication that *not dying within 6 years* is in any way synonymous with *health*. So you can prolong your life more now due to modern medicine? That does not mean that being obese is just as healthy as being at a normal weight.

2) No practical application. Basically the conclusion that, once you correct for hypertension and diabetes, obese people are not any more likely to die than normal weight people is meaningless. The reality is that being obese IS strongly associated with those diseases, so it doesn’t make much practical sense to try separating them. How can you guarantee that you will be the lucky person, who upon becoming obese, does not develop these diseases? This is kind of like concluding that, once you correct for lung cancer/cardio disease/etc., smokers are no more likely to die than non-smokers.

3) The authors don’t separate diabetes I and diabetes II. FYI: the mortality rate for type I is higher than that of type II. They also don’t correct for other diseases (unless you count smoking as a disease). This probably explains much of their “findings.”

Overall, I found this study to be inconsequential and poorly done.

I do agree with your assessment of the weight loss industry, though. But, honestly, the weight loss industry does not have health in mind, for the most part. But, at the same time, it doesn’t want people to be at a normal weight either. And it is probably better to be overweight than the yo-yoing that most of the weight loss industry thrives on. As for the last 3 points:

1) I’m not sure how helpful this is. People should try to become educated about health in order to be able to critically read articles. They shouldn’t just dismiss the content of the article based on advertising on the site (although one should always pay attention to the suggestion of supplements within the articles themselves). Should I disagree with the writers on Persephone discussing beauty standards, for example, because their advertisers are pushing make-up on me?

2) Excess fat can be unhealthy. But I agree with the rest of this point.

3) This is a bit misleading. Many of the studies that do support the existence of health problems associated with obesity are not in fact funded by the diet industry. Do you have evidence that the one discussed here (on cognition and obesity) is funded by the weight loss industry? Obviously, the funding is something to keep in mind when evaluating a given study, but implying that studies that show obesity leads to health problems are funded by the diet industry is wrong.

Bad reporting of studies isn’t acceptable, but that doesn’t mean a good, well researched article has to be one that features statistics in favour of obesity. Good health news reporting is about good studies, not studies that are simply pleasing.

Leave a Reply