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To think one can't tell how healthy another person is by looking at them?

(38 Posts)
Amaxapax Sun 13-Jan-13 17:36:41

I don't post much, but I read a lot of threads and have been grateful to have been educated about hidden disabilities, which has certainly helped me to be less judgemental in social situations.
Recently, however, I have read a number of threads regarding weight in which posters describe a person and say their weight is unhealthy, or give broad brackets of acceptable weights, indicating that a higher weight is unhealthy in a sort of blanket statement.
Am I being unreasonable to say that, just like you can't always tell if a person is disabled just by looking at them, you also can't tell whether or not the person is healthy? Imagine two women. One is within a 'healthy' BMI. The other is classed as 'overweight'. The heavier one woman works out regularly, eats meals cooked from scratch comprised primarily of lean meats and veg and has a couple of glasses of wine one Saturday night. The small woman drinks more frequently, eats heavily processed food, primarily carbohydrates, though not necessarily exceeding a reasonable caloric intake. She doesn't exercise. Which woman is healthier? Why do we feel it's acceptable to comment on someone's health based only on appearance?
I appreciate that some people are quite obviously affected in health terms by their weight, and I'm not talking about those who are morbidly obese. For those in the 'overweight' category, however, it seems unfair to make comments about their health without personal knowledge, especially given the existence of research indicating that there are some health benefits associated with being 10-20 lbs overweight, particularly in comparison to being a similar amount underweight.
So, AIBU to think people should stop commenting on a person's health based solely on their appearance?

notMarlene Sun 13-Jan-13 17:38:50


timidviper Sun 13-Jan-13 17:53:33

There was an article somewhere recently that fat and fit is better than thin and unfit for health

CailinDana Sun 13-Jan-13 18:14:14

I see where you're coming from, but there is such a thing as an "unhealthy" weight in the sense that the weight alone, apart from anything else, is a problem, for example when a person is breathless from a short walk or is suffering joint problems from carrying weight. Equally a low weight can be unhealthy because the person is lacking in nutrients/energy. Generally, for women, anything above 15/16 stone is going to be unhealthy (unless the woman is unusually tall) as the female frame is generally too small to support that weight.

Alisvolatpropiis Sun 13-Jan-13 18:19:33

I agree with Cailin

SquinkiesRule Sun 13-Jan-13 18:22:39

Yes you are right. Many thin looking people have high cholesterol and huge risk for heart attack. You don't have to be fat for that.

Catsnotrats Sun 13-Jan-13 18:26:05

I would wonder why the woman who is eating healthily (and I assume within the recommended daily calorie intake) and regularly exercising is still overweight?

Yes there are conditions which mean people can be overweight even when they eat small amounts and exercise, but on the whole the human body doesn't want excess weight as it is inefficient physiologically.

StuntGirl Sun 13-Jan-13 18:27:37

YANBU. I am heavier than my very slender cousin, on appearances alone people would be likely to think she is healthier than me. I suspect her heavy smoking and drinking would say otherwise. I reckon we're probably equal on terms of un/healthiness.

edam Sun 13-Jan-13 18:28:53

The human body does want excess weight because in evolutionary terms we are still hunter-gatherers and you need some reserves to cope with the lean times. Our bodies are very good at making fat reserves.

scissy Sun 13-Jan-13 18:35:25

Catsnotrats - it can happen quite easily, especially if said person is on medication. I used to be overweight despite eating healthily and exercising, doctors switched my medication for an unrelated condition and I went back to being a "normal" (i.e. what I should be) weight. It's actually incredibly frustrating when no matter what you do, you stay overweight due to something like that, I'm planning to stick to the new meds I think!

Catsnotrats Sun 13-Jan-13 18:55:26

Exactly - there are certain medical reasons as I said, and medication side effects are one of these.

BTW I don't think weight is the only indicator of health - you can be slim and unhealthy very easily. I do think it is harder though to be overweight and healthy though.

somewherewest Sun 13-Jan-13 19:55:51

you can be slim and unhealthy very easily

I'm one of those people grin. I just don't put on weight, which means I've never had much incentive to eat well.

PurplePoppySeed Sun 13-Jan-13 20:14:24

Likewise you can be 'overweight' but not be unhealthy. Since TTC I stopped drinking (didn't drink much before), I've always eaten my 5 a day, cooked everything from scratch, dont really like crisps/fatty snacks, I'm reasonably fit, could exercise more but everyone thinks that!

I have a BMI of 26 which is 'overweight', but I'm a size 12 and 5'10.

Theicingontop Sun 13-Jan-13 20:19:44

I'm overweight, and have been doing the couch to 5k programme (and honestly can't recommend it enough.) It isn't necessarily designed to make you lose weight but to increase your fitness and stamina.

So I was running along the beach yesterday morning and there was a skinny little thing doing her jog along the same stretch. She looked as if she was about to die, and I saw her start after me. Yanbu!!

LessMissAbs Sun 13-Jan-13 20:31:24

I find I can tell quite accurately by just looking at someone. I'm a competitive runner, and what you do on the start line is look at your opposition to see whos going to be fast. Its very accurate. Its not just weight, its colour, shape of legs, muscle tone, etc..

And then, knowing what healthy athletes look like gives me a good guideline for comparing other people against. Its easy to spot the signs of poor, fatty diet, whether they smoke or not, and too much alcohol in skin texture and colour, eyes (bloodshot or not), thread veins, their hair, their skin elasticity, how they store excess fat, etc..

My friend is a pathologist and she maintains that she can often spot the likely cause of death in many people years before they actually do peg it, and that some people are just about to pass away, because they are walking cases of high cholestorol and poor circulation.

Amaxapax Sun 13-Jan-13 20:32:33

I guess my feeling is that people hide behind concerns about health as a way to be judgmental about a person who doesn't look the way they 'should'. I'm confused about why it would be more difficult to be healthy and overweight, assuming we're not veering into the morbidly obese categorisation, as I mentioned in my OP. If you are overweight but still eating healthily and exercising, why do the extra pounds automatically mean you aren't as healthy?

Catsnotrats, why would you question why the healthier person was still overweight instead of questioning why the unhealthy person was of a normal weight? Isn't it possible that different people hold on to fat differently?

I suppose I think it would be more sensible for all the focus on weight loss to be adjusted to focusing on being healthy at every size, which would perhaps remove the lure of crash dieting for the purpose of being thin, which is often done under the pretext of health instead of the actual motivation of vanity.

CombineBananaFister Sun 13-Jan-13 20:37:06

Me and my friends often comment about this (and it's not just me bein overweight and looking for justification) it's a bit of a running joke. A size 8 friend who smokes like a chimmney, eats LOADS and seriously cannot run to catch her toddler admits she can't possibly be healthy. I on the other hand am not a good example as although my medication affects weight gain i eat too much nice stuff (husband a chef) I do run twice a week,swim and have a physical job so I don't have any 'problems'associated with it - I have to have regular check-ups and this pleases my doctor no end. Another italian frined gets quite ill with their blood pressure and cholestoral but excercises and eats well bless them but has to take statins. So although generally there are certain rules about whta makes you healthy, there are exceptions and weight isn't the only indicator in my eyes. maybe I would be olypic material if i divorced wink

ratbagcatbag Sun 13-Jan-13 20:44:38

Difficult one, I've got a bmi of 34, far too short is my issue at five ft. grin however I Zumba twice a week, walk for pleasure regularly and climbed Snowden in August and couldn't walk for two days afterwards so I'm not unfit, but if I ate less choc and takeaways I could be even better.
I'm currently 29 weeks pregnant and have managed only 2lb weight gain (which I'm chuffed about) and according to the midwives I'm absolutely spot on with every test result I've had, the only blot on my notes is my high bmi, but because I'm still walking lots I'm doing well and a lot more active than others I've seen.

Cat98 Sun 13-Jan-13 21:08:13

Hmm, on balance I think YANBU - though I agree with a previous poster that being overweight/obese on it own adds an extra 'unhealthy' factor regardless of how much veg they eat etc.

However, I could almost be the small woman in your example! I am 5 ft 3, 8 stone 10, size 8-10. I am not unfit but certainly not fit either and have a too-high resting heart rate. I eat veg but only with dinner, and I rarely eat fruit. I eat too much junk - my main poisons are chocolate, bread, bacon sandwiches and takeaways - but the reason I'm not overweight I guess is because if I have something like a bacon sandwich I won't eat much else for the rest of the day apart from a small dinner.
I also drink too much wine I think!
So yes - from looking at me you'd probably think I'm healthier than I am. At least I don't smoke!!

HappySeven Sun 13-Jan-13 21:17:13

LessMissAbs, really? I'm often surprised at who is a good runner (and who isn't!) when I do a 10k. And is poor circulation a 'bad' thing? I've always had poor circulation but never thought of it as anything but annoying.

LessMissAbs Sun 13-Jan-13 21:40:30

HappySeven I don't think poor circulation is ever a good thing - your blood not only transports oxygen and energy around your body but facilitates repair of tissue. But I was thinking more of those men in their twenties/early thirties who spend too much time in the pub and who, although still relatively slim, have that sort of rough, unhealthy skin - its a sign of poor lymph drainage.

But in 10ks and other endurance running events, its all about power to weight ratio, and there are not many sub 40 minute female 10k runners carrying much overweight. I know if I put on even a few pounds, it slows me down by at least a minute per 5k.

edam Sun 13-Jan-13 22:51:14

My Mother is definitely not healthy - smokes, overweight, doesn't do any exercise thanks to a foot problem - but irritates the doctors no end by sailing past every test every time they think there might be an issue. Which she finds quite amusing. grin

giveitago Sun 13-Jan-13 23:32:12

YANBU. I was very slim for many years. To the outside world I was very healthy looking and very fit (gym bunny). Went for this health check and my body fat ratio was very high. They pointed out another woman to me who was much larger but who had a much healthier body fat ratio.

My parents are the same age. DF - looks his age but is very healthy and slim and has survived two types of cancer on more than two occasions over last 30 years. My dm looks 20 years younger and is also slim but full of diabetes and v. high blood pressure etc.Nothing she does improves it. But people are all over her because how she looks. I worry about dm mum but less about dd who looks very old but is fine.

LineRunner Sun 13-Jan-13 23:37:55

BMI is bonkers.

i am classed as morbidly obese. im 18st 5ft 7". i know people consider me unhealthy by the way they look at me.

however, they dont know that i dont drink, i dont smoke, i dont do drugs, i do weight watchers, i go the the gym 2-3 times a week, i do zumba when my knee isnt playing up, i go swimming once a week, i dont eat takeout but do eat out once a week, i do not have any health related illnesses, and according to my dr i have a lot of healthy colesterol. the only health problem i have is gallstones... and anyone can get those.

they also dont know that in the past 3 1/2 years i have lost 4st. my dh is skinny and at his ideal weight, yet im fitter than he is. he doesnt work out or excersise. people judge... and they really shouldnt.

"fat bashing" really makes me angry

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