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Don't double up on dessert



Published: Sat, April 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Kansas City Star: Some people may be helping themselves to a celebratory tub of ice cream -- with a river of chocolate sauce and sprinkles -- after hearing that a new study downplays some of the health risks of obesity.

A modest cone, however, might be more in order. And hold the sprinkles.

The study, reported this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association , raises some intriguing questions about weight and health. But the continuing scientific debate on this subject should not be used as an excuse for people to throw nutritional caution to the wind.

It remains clear that excessive weight can pose an array of health risks. Most of these risks were not even addressed in the study; it focused on death rates, not disability or disease. And its authors acknowledge plenty of gaps that require further research.

Another study -- released in corrected form early this year -- blames hundreds of thousands of deaths a year in the United States on excessive weight. But the study reported this week in the Journal suggests there are far fewer fatalities and argues that the benefits of higher weight in certain cases have been overlooked.

Inexact science

Some people greeted the new study as if it had demolished the previous one. But different research methods, definitions and assumptions often produce different results. And as one official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention observes, "Counting deaths is not an exact science."

The investigators in the new study are widely respected. But their work will require careful review and is already drawing skeptical questions from some experts. In what some may consider a low blow, a New York Times story also noted in passing that at least one of the researchers is himself overweight.

A second report in the current issue of the Journal underscores the fact that better treatment has helped bring down the death rates for obesity.

While this is "good news" in the sense that more effective treatments have been developed, it would obviously be better news if fewer of these sometimes-costly treatments were necessary. Better medicine is not the same thing as better health.




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