Get Fatter, Live Longer?

Overweight man over new food pyramid
The government recently released its latest "food pyramid." They felt the old pyramid was too confusing, so to make things simpler, they came up with not one, but 12 different color-coded pyramids. It doesn't sound less confusing to me. Then again, we all know from history that it takes a long time to build a good pyramid. Some other nutrition-related information was also in the news. Surprisingly, those who are "slightly overweight" may live longer than those of "normal" weight. And scientists discovered that some people are actually drinking too much water. Nutritional guidelines keep changing. What's the next one going to say? That smoking is good for us?

If you go online to, you'll be told how to find the right pyramid for you. I guess the new health guidelines only apply to people who use the Internet. Anyway, you have to answer questions about your caloric needs, and then you'll be guided to the pyramid that fits you. Trying to find the right pyramid is probably a healthy activity, because you won't be eating while you're spending all that energy trying to figure this thing out.

Those responsible for the "slightly overweight" research found that slightly overweight people may live longer than those of "normal" weight. Before you break out the pie and whipped cream, I should tell you that they may live longer, but they will probably not have a healthier life. Being overweight still leads to all kinds of serious medical problems. But that's the kind of hard truth that gets buried in the story. People who struggle with their weight are just going to concentrate on the "slightly overweight equals greater longevity" headline. This sounds a bit dangerous to me. It's going to lead to a lot of rationalizations like, "Give me another piece of cake. It's just going to add years to my life."

And what is "slightly overweight?" Five pounds? Ten pounds? My guess is it's going to turn out to be the exact weight that people who don't want to lose weight weigh.

If it becomes more desirable to be slightly overweight, there will be all kinds of cultural ramifications. Slightly overweight people will no longer be anxious about wearing a bathing suit. At the beach, those of "normal weight" will probably hear the snickering of those with bulging bellies on the next blanket. Pudgy people will become much more attractive as dates and potential marriage partners. And they will be especially motivated to have children, figuring that their genes will produce slightly overweight kids who will have a long, long life.

The other surprising nutritional statement is that it's possible to drink too much water. This applies mainly to athletes who over-hydrate themselves while exercising. However, I won't be surprised if the general public overreacts to this information by cutting down on their water. So, based on these recent studies, those health-conscious folks who always carry a bottle of water with them may start carrying a pack of Twinkies instead.

Since recommendations keep changing, many of us tend to ignore them. Fat is bad one year, fat is good the next. Carbohydrates are evil, carbohydrates are not so bad. Eggs are good for us, eggs aren't healthy. Red meat is a killer, red meat is healthy. Since all of this is supposed to be based on science, it seems like their pronouncements should be more definite. I know that rewiring a plugged-in lamp while standing in a puddle of water is dangerous today, and it will be dangerous in 50 years. But who knows what nutritionists are going to say is a healthy diet 50 years from now? Maybe only the "slightly overweight" will be around to find out.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver