There’s a big problem at the center of our
research on weight and health. What’s the
Picture a society made up of dogs. Let’s say
poodles are the bossiest group. They’re the
ones you see down at the doggie park barking
at all the other dogs about how to live their
lives in order to be healthy.
But the problem is, poodles think that every
other kind of dog is just a really big or
really small or really fat poodle, when actually,
the other dogs aren’t even poodles at all
– they’re terriers and mastiffs and greyhounds
And all the thousands of different dog breeds
have different lifespans and different health
risks. Each one has evolved to use food differently,
for different specialties at surviving: some
for staying warm, some for running fast, some
for being strong. They’re meant to be different
sizes and weights.
So the poodles think the mastiffs should lose
weight, but a starving mastiff never becomes
a poodle. The poodles don’t understand that
dogs come in many more sizes than they can
imagine in their poodle-centric ways.
So this becomes a problem when it comes to
poodle science. When the poodles did their
weight-and-health research, and made the claim
that “lighter dogs are healthier and live
longer,” they weren’t comparing thinner poodles
and fatter poodles; they were comparing poodles
and mastiffs. So the recommendation for mastiffs
to lose weight is based on the false assumption
that if all the dogs reach poodle weight,
all the dogs would have poodle health. But
once again, a starved mastiff just isn’t a
This poodle science doesn’t even test whether
a starved mastiff lives longer than a mastiff
who has enough to eat, because one would have
to compare mastiffs who maintain poodle weight
to mastiffs that maintain mastiff weight.
And it turns out that starving mastiffs regain
weight – which after all is a much better
thing than starving. But the poodles can only
see that regain as a failure of mastiff self-discipline.
Look, poodles are great, but poodle-centric
health policy is a nightmare.
Good science tells us that it is better to
recognize and respect the ways we are different,
because how we’re treated, having good friends,
and having access to decent food, a place
to play, restful sleep, and medical care make
a huge difference in our health and longevity,
for all of us, whatever our size.