Are There Any Benefits To Being Fat?

The magazine - No. 33

Attention, attention, please take cover: the man who is about to enter the café has a body mass index of 24. This means that he should be almost overweight. But Friedrich Schorb doesn't have a bum that covers two chairs, he jogs through the door at the agreed interview date and he's a relatively thin, almost petite person. He looks completely healthy - and that's actually right in the middle of the topic. Friedrich Schorb fights against the repeated claim that our society is becoming fat. During the interview about his new book, we eat plum cake as a sign of symbolic protest. On the table is the current issue of a knowledge magazine, which appropriately has the topic of nutrition.

There's a pretty alarming article in this magazine here. A man says that he almost eaten himself to death, and then there is also the cost of being overweight for society. The sequelae of obesity supposedly devour around 70 billion euros a year, which is around 30% of health expenditure in Germany. Incomprehensible. But is that actually true?

This is this famous figure from the Federal Ministry of Health, which comes from a study from 1993. At that time it was calculated that 30 percent of all diseases were diet-related, and now you simply add the 30 percent to the current costs in the health care system.

Moment. In this article, however, it says “conditionally” and not “partly conditionally”.

In the original it says conditionally. Translated, this means: "You don't know anything specific". The diseases listed there can be triggered by diet, but also by other factors. One has such a vague idea that certain diets can promote diabetes mellitus, bone disease and cardiovascular problems. Conversely, however, we do not know what the ideal diet might look like to avoid these diseases. Therefore, I consider this number to be completely dubious. It's a pure numbers game. You can't say if people eat ten grams more vegetables and ten grams less fat, then you could save that 70 billion.

If you read articles like this one, you get the impression that being fat is potentially fatal.

There are of course cases of extremely overweight people, where it becomes really dangerous and people are disabled in their ability to move in everyday life, but that does not apply to the large mass of people who are considered overweight according to the current criteria. Besides, the same could be said about people who are extremely slim. You take these extreme examples and generalize - and that's the real problem.

It is said that the number of overweight people is increasing. Is that true?

That's not quite true. In Germany it is anyway more complicated to say than in other countries because there are not really good comparative figures here. The first good, nationwide study was carried out in 2008, that was the "National Consumption Study II". You don't have really old data. In the 1970s, however, it was claimed that half of Germans were too fat and that it was particularly bad for children. But you can't compare that with today's data, because back then you had different limit values ​​and only very small case numbers. In the USA, on the other hand, there has been a sharp increase since the 1980s, but there too the number of overweight people has stagnated according to the latest surveys since the turn of the millennium. You have reached a climax.

Where does obesity come from? Is it caused by poor diet?

That's one of the places where it gets very complicated. It cannot be proven that overweight people eat more fat or more sweets overall. This was attempted in the "First National Consumption Study" in the 1980s and the surprising result was that overweight people even consume less fat and sugar. Maybe they just show less because they are sensitized to the topic. But you can't prove the opposite either. It is now believed that it is oversimplified to say that it is mainly a matter of poor diet. Rather, it is an interplay of many factors, movement of course, but genes also play an important role.

Where does a society's reflex come from to brand fat people as sick?

One reason is simply that being fat is considered unpleasant or unaesthetic, and one wants to mix these aesthetic issues with health issues. What is unwanted is unhealthy and thus the debate is superfluous because one cannot argue against human health.

Does that mean it is about an ideal of beauty that you want to enforce with a health pretext?

Yes exactly. There are now a lot of studies in which you can read that it is not the slim person, but the slightly overweight person who has the highest life expectancy. A BMI of around 27 is ideal because being a bit thicker is an advantage in old age. This is pretty well documented by now. But it is not perceived that way because there is an ideal that says: A healthy body has to be slim and sporty.

Are the poor more often fat than the rich or is that also a number game?

That is statistically correct. Interestingly, however, these numbers are often used in the context of allegedly self-inflicted poverty. One then says: Well, the lower classes are themselves to blame for their misery, they don't have too little money, they simply lack discipline, they don't look after their children, they don't care about their food, they neglect, and you can see that you can already think of the fact that they are overweight. I consider the accusation that resonates in this way of looking at things to be very problematic.

In our human rights edition, we have re-cooked the Hartz IV dishes of the former Berlin Senator for Finance Thilo Sarrazin. That was really gross ...

(Laughs) Mr. Sarrazin actually wanted to prove that you can eat a wonderfully healthy diet from Hartz IV. But actually the opposite came out. The food was scarce in terms of quantity and anything but balanced.


Friedrich Schorb's book “Dick, stupid and poor? The big lie of being overweight and who benefits from it «has been published by Droemer Verlag.