There are several facts about fatness that, when put together, lead to a more nuanced understanding of it.
People in America are getting fatter over the long term. (Some studies showed that trend leveling off after the 1990s, while one recent one showed it continuing through today.) People are also getting taller, and are living longer. So if being fat is a killer, it’s a reeeeally slow one.
But the data show that fat people don’t live as long. Except that some live longer. See, the “overweight” BMI category (BMI is body mass index, a measure of how heavy someone is for a particular height), which includes people that most observers would call average in this day and age, have the longest lives. As one gets above or below this size category, lives are shorter. The “obese” category is comparable to the “underweight” category. The “morbidly obese” have the shortest lives of all categories, but on average it’s only a couple of years shorter.
There’s the “obesity paradox”, which is really any benefit to being fat. Fat people survive heart disease and surgery at higher rates than other people. Heavier people get osteoporosis at lower rates. Of course, these are only paradoxical if you think that fatness is a disease.
What does all this add up to? My feeling is that fatness is an adaptation. That is, it’s a way of the body adjusting to its environment, and it has both costs and benefits. Benefits: fat is sustaining, healing, and a source of stored energy. (Check our, for example, Tante Terri’s post about the omentum.) Costs: fat makes it harder to move (this is also a benefit since it builds muscle and bone), fat costs energy to create, and it costs resources to sustain (Although the body tends to protect stored fat by lowering its caloric costs, which is why dieters plateau).
As an example, a fellow NAAFA member, NYC Ivan, has had several times in his life when he’s been deathly ill. Normally a fat man, he loses weight drastically when he’s sick, and gains it back while he’s on the mend. His illnesses are the kind that take a lot out of you, and I think he would have died had he been thin when he got sick. His fatness appears to be literally saving his life. His family criticized him for being fat, even though it’s clear to me that his body is adapting to its challenges by gaining weight when it can (whether he wants it to or not).
When I was a kid, I had a wonderful book called What’s the Biggest by Barbara Fogel. I don’t have the book anymore (I bought another copy, but I gave it to my nephew so I don’t have that either), but my favorite part is a two-page illustration of a horse (only his lower legs are visible), a mouse, and an ant, all in a grassy field. The ant is crawling up a blade of grass that the horse can trot right over. That part of the book discusses the fact that bigness has advantages and disadvantages. The horse can do greater things, but the mouse can suvive on much less, and so on. Costs and benefits. Fatness is the same way, I think.
So I’ve arrived at a more realistic assessment of what fatness is. It isn’t all fantastic. It isn’t horrible. It’s an adaptation.