The question of whether a person’s weight or body shape can be viewed as a reliable indicator of health has long been a cause for debate. A recent tweet from Piers Morgan has ignited it once more. In his post, Morgan shared one of a series of magazine covers, featuring fitness enthusiasts with a range of body shapes, not commonly associated with the world of wellness.
“This is healthy!” proclaims the cover.
“No, it’s not. And given that obesity is a major factor in why many get severe covid illness, this cover is shamefully irresponsible,” Morgan retorted.
First, to address his initial claim: there is evidence to suggest that obesity or a high BMI are linked to an increasedseverity of illness with COVID-19. But there is also evidence that a person with, say, asthma is at increased risk of illness from the virus. Does that preclude all asthmatics from acting as positive role models for the pursuit of better health?
What constitutes “healthy” is a complicated issue. There’s our eating and exercise habits, sure. But we must also consider our stress levels, our social connections, our sleep quality and whether or not we smoke, not all of which are guaranteed to tip the scales.
Even the term “fit” is somewhat fuzzy. Every regular gym-goer will have observed that the trimmest exercisers aren’t always the fastest, strongest or most mobile.
A couple of years ago, I interviewed Dr Adam Collins, a nutrition and metabolism expert at the University of Surrey, about this very issue. “The relationship between BMI and metabolic health is not linear,” he told me. “By adopting healthy habits, a person with obesity can make major improvements without visibly losing weight.”
He pointed me to a study analysis published in the journal , which concluded that it’s possible for a person classified as overweight to have normal blood pressure, cholesterol levels and insulin balance, although that is patently not always the case. But, equally, an estimated 18% of lean people are thought to be metabolically unhealthy.
As for Morgan’s point that images of fat people exercising can be considered to encourage unhealthiness, I’ll confess to finding this viewpoint confusing. “Fitness” does not belong to the thin. Promoting physical activity as a path to better physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing can only ever be a good thing, regardless of the body shape of the advocate.
One of the most inspiring stories I’ve worked on recently concerns a man named Maynor De Leon, who weighs 30 stone, yet can deadlift a barbell or slam a med ball far more deftly than I can (and possibly you, too). True, De Leon is working to lose weight. But I’d argue that were he never to shift another kilo, he would remain a role model for his dedication to staying active and his openness around the issue of male mental health. What’s more, the fitness pics he posts on social media are inspiring not despite his size, but inclusive of it.
I am aware that our publication is one that regularly produces content related to weight loss or the pursuit of a more muscular body. That’s because these are still things that many people want to achieve, and advocating for safe, sustainable solutions is our job.
I don’t view the provision of weight-loss advice as counter to the body-positivity movement; for some people, it can even be life-saving. But I can also appreciate that working towards a healthier outlook and a healthier way of living does not begin and end with the number of the scale. It can mean training for your first marathon, discovering a passion for cooking, even starting therapy.
So, I’d say yes. This is one version of “healthy”.
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