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Fat Helps in a Heart Attack, But Don't Be Fat

Michelle and many other folks pointed me to a 2005 Duke University study stating that fat people fared better after heart attacks than non-fat people.

A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Medicine by scientists at Duke University examined nearly 16,000 people in 37 countries. The authors found that one year after a heart attack, the death rate for normal-weight patients was 4.3 percent. For obese patients, it was just 2.2 percent.

Several other studies have confirmed those findings, including a paper last month in the European Heart Journal. German and Swiss doctors tracked more than 1,600 patients for three years after their heart attacks, and concluded that only 3.6 percent of fat patients had died, against nearly 10 percent of normal-weight patients.

Essentially, researchers admit they have no idea why this is because fat is often cited as a cause for heart attacks. The amount of FUD in this piece is rather stunning. AP author Maria Cheng puts it this way:

However, experts warn, the results should not be used as an excuse for the overweight to indulge.

Indulge. Yes. That's what The Fat People do. We indulge all the time. Indulge, indulge, indulge.

"We really don't want people to think that they should put on a bit of weight to have a better chance with their bypass surgery," said Dr. Gerald Fletcher, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Florida and a spokesman for the American Heart Association.

"These results do not mean it's OK to be fat. Being fat is still dangerous to your health for lots of other reasons," Fletcher said.

Fletcher added, "But I won't list them here because everyone assumes that it's public knowledge and I don't need to because you're all scared enough... just don't be fat, okay? And don't gain weight, ever, mmkay?"

"It could be that the hearts of obese people are 'pre-conditioned' because they're under more stress in the first place," said Dr. Andrew Newby, a professor of vascular biology at Bristol Heart Institute and spokesman for the European Society of Cardiology. Newby said that fat people who had heart attacks might be better able to withstand the initial shock to the system.

Is Newby suggesting, in a veiled way, that fat people are... stronger? It could be interpreted that way; he sees it as a bad thing.

The crazy part of this, though, is that even though this study shows that fat people are in a better spot post-heart attack... doctors still recommend weight loss.

Some suggested that fat people who have heart attacks can markedly improve their survival odds if they make some major lifestyle changes, an option that normal-weight patients may not have.

Yes, because "normal-weight" patients can't do anything.

"Even moderate weight loss can have a big impact," said Dr. Heinz Buettner of the Heart Centre in Bad Krozingen in Germany. "Obese patients have a better chance to correct their situation compared to thin patients who may just have bad genes."

Wait, whoa, what? Wow. Dr. Buettner's opinion of fat is laid bare here: he really does think we're all just eating too much. Thin people? It's genetic. Fat people? It's indulgence. This is a pretty ridiculous argument.

Because obesity can lead to other dangers — including high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer — the apparent survival advantage fat people have after a heart attack might be erased by something worse down the line.

"Obese patients may get lucky after one heart attack, but they are still high-risk patients," said Fletcher. "If they stay fat after their surgery, they could end up back in the hospital soon and more bad things could happen."

MORE BAD THINGS! No, seriously, this is in the article. He's not specific, not telling us what's up - just MORE BAD THINGS. And the whole sentiment of the article - from it being "luck" (even though it's in a study, and studies usually don't count on luck, Doctor) to "indulge" to "you're going to get (insert disease here)" - is one of fear, despite a bit of evidence that fat can help.

Irresponsible, shoddy reporting and fear mongering.

New Zealand Doctors to Fat Immigrants: Stay Out | Races Differ on Dieting

Dreama July 10th, 2007 | Link | The message just doesn't

The message just doesn't stop, it's coming from all sides.

You must never be fat. And even if you are fat and somehow manage to get thin, the damage is done, and you are forever tainted by having once been fat.

If you're a fat child, you're unhealthy and will grow up miserably and doomed to horrible health, and your parents are neglectful and possibly abusive, and you cannot drink soda and you may not play videogames/use a computer and if you're shoved onto reality TV to be abused and forced into horribly unhealthy behaviors to try to force you into thinness, it's all for your own good.

And you fat adults, are bad parents. You would be bad parents if you aren't already parents and if you can't have a baby on your own, we can't give you one because you'll make them fat like you. If you're a woman and you've ever been fat and you *do* have a baby, you'll have a fat baby. In thin women, fat babies are fine and good, but in you awful fat women, a fat baby is a bad thing. You must carefully monitor even what your newborn infant children eat, lest they turn fat.

Fat adults, you are bad employees. You will be hired less often, paid less, injured on the job more and have fewer protections. You can and will be bullied, cajoled or outright forced to join weight-loss programs in the workplace in order to qualify for insurance coverage, if insurance is even offered to you.

Fat people in general, well, all our research shows that you're not as unhealthy as we'd like to claim. You fare better under the most stressful circumstances - heart attack, cancer, broken bones, old age -- but that's no excuse. You're still at horrible, horrible risk for diseases! Diseases that you may well survive better if you're fat, ironically, but we won't dwell on that.

It all boils down to the same message. Fat is bad, do not be fat. Every piece of research, every piece of actual evidence will constantly fly right in the face of the "conventional wisdom" but it's not going to be dropped.

Until we start making some real noise.

BabySeal July 10th, 2007 | Link | "More bad things" sounds

"More bad things" sounds like a 5-year-old may attempt to describe something beyond his verbal range. You'd expect better from a professional, wouldn't you?
And for the actual content of the article, Dreama said it all very well already. ITA.

Anariel July 10th, 2007 | Link | Beware the Horrible Spooky

Beware the Horrible Spooky Bad Things!

Dreama, I think you summed it up beautifully. It's amazing the lengths that people will go to in order to justify their views that being fat may actually be...*shockgasphorror*...not as bad as we're supposed to believe.

wriggle99 July 10th, 2007 | Link | Better dead than fat, say experts, again.

Do these brainiacs have a clue how dopey they sound? I can't help feeling a little embarrassed for them, I'm especially tickled by the way they valiantly attempt to thwart us gorging ourselves on grub!

Seriously though, if it wasn't for their constant vigilance, I'd be fat. Eye-wink

Kate Harding's picture
Kate Harding
July 10th, 2007 | Link | gaaaah!

Paul, I am so glad you saw this before I did, because I would have lost it if I'd had to read that without the commentary. MORE BAD THINGS!!

I'm about 98% sure (and too lazy to fact check at the mo) that family history is the number one risk factor for heart disease, period. But thin people have "bad genes" and fat people just eat too much?

Someone gave this person a license to practice medicine??

DeeLeigh's picture
July 11th, 2007 | Link | I noticed that one too.

I noticed that one too. Because, apparently, thin people are never responsible for their poor health, and fat people always are. It must be because being fat is 100% a result of being a lazy glutten and has nothing to do with your genes. Also, fat people who have heart attacks always have them because they're fat, and not because they're genetically predisposed to have heart problems. We're magically protected from any cause of illness that isn't weight related.

I'm surprised this guy did well enough on the analytical part of the MCATs to make it into med school.

april July 10th, 2007 | Link | You have to laugh at the

You have to laugh at the absurdly circular logic. Obese patients may get lucky after one heart attack, but they are still high-risk patients - oh, right, because BEING FAT is already defined as "at risk".

I'm glad to have this crowd of people around to do the laughing, though, because someone needs to.

paul July 10th, 2007 | Link | Thanks

Hey, april, thanks for calling it top-notch snark too. That means a lot!

Meowzer July 10th, 2007 | Link | Right, thin people who have

Right, thin people who have heart attacks already have perfect health habits, so there's no lifestyle adjustments they could possibly make to lessen the chance of a repeat. Thin people never eat fried food or sugar or fatty meat by the truckload. Thin people also never smoke, never abuse drugs or alcohol, never subject themselves to unnecessary stress at home, at work, on the highway, and always get plenty of sleep. They are the uber-humans! If any of them gets sick it's a total, total fluke, unlike those fatties who completely deserve it for being so self-destructive.

GAAAAAH! How does this crap get editorial approval? How? How??? I'm of half a mind to get rid of my Yahoo email and tell them exactly why I'm doing it.

cynorita July 10th, 2007 | Link | fat haters have it allllllll figured out

I saw some fat haters comment on an article very similar to this one, and they concluded that; if the fat people did better after a heart attack its because the study had YOUNGER people that were fat, and OLDER people that were thin.

Yep, they decided that fat people had heart attacks at a younger age so that is why they did better after the heart attack and no young thin people had heart attacks... cuz you know, that's just the way it is.

I swear, I wanna be on a roof top with a rifle some days.

vesta44's picture
July 12th, 2007 | Link | cynorita, it's too bad they

cynorita, it's too bad they didn't have my dad in their study. He had a major heart attack when he was 63 and almost died (he's 5' 10" and weighed about 220 at the time, not sure what he weighs now). That was 11 years ago, and just this month, he had some sort of episode where he ended up in the hospital and had to have stents put in a couple of arteries (70% and 98% blockage), had another heart attack at the hospital and almost died again (he now has a defibrillator and is doing well). I would venture to say that if he hadn't had a few extra pounds, he might not have survived the first heart attack at all. And from what I remember of our family history, heart problems are common, but not until the 60-70's age range, and even then, most of the family has lived to their mid-80's and 90's (and most of them were fat, to one degree or another).
I think the problem with people's reactions to studies like these, is that "fat=unhealthy" is so ingrained and has been for so long now, that even with scientific proof that fat won't kill you, they just cannot believe it, they refuse to believe it. People are made up of biases about all kinds of things, and giving up those biases is difficult for some, and almost impossible for others (racial and sexual preference bigotry come to mind here, I see it in my family every day).

it's all right to be crazy, just don't let it drive ya nuts!

rebelle July 10th, 2007 | Link | Did he seriously say: "don't

Did he seriously say: "don't be fat, okay? And don't gain weight, ever, mmkay?" Just how the fuck old does he think the people he's talking to are? This idiot just added a whole new dimension to fat prejudice: we're all children!

paul July 10th, 2007 | Link | Nope...

...that's me being sarcastic, rebelle. He did reference "really bad things", though - that's from the article.

rebelle July 11th, 2007 | Link | Ahhh! I wondered about

Ahhh! I wondered about that--serves me right for not paying better attention. But I still am of the mind he's an idiot.

michelle July 12th, 2007 | Link | cynorita, that would fit

cynorita, that would fit with the illogical "logic" since the older a man is, the more likely he is to survive a heart attack. Young men in their 40s are especially vulnerable to sudden death during a cardiac arrest because they have not developed the secondary pathways for blood flow that older men have.

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