Research we can use

June 29, 2009

by Ivan Raconteur

Reuters released a pearl of a news story this week that I have been anticipating for years.

The story was about a new study that said a few extra pounds can add years to your life.

This is great news for those of us who have been carrying some excess baggage.

For years, we have been subjected to people telling us that we need to lose weight for the sake of our health.

Now, according to this Canadian study, it turns out that being significantly underweight can be just as bad as being significantly overweight, and people who are slightly overweigh live longer than those of a “normal” weight.

This is a great relief, because I am sure being a few pounds overweight will be a much easier goal to attain.

Apparently, the study found that people who were extremely underweight were 70 percent more likely to cash in their chips early than people of “normal” weight. Extremely obese people were only 36 percent more likely to die, which gives the fatties a 34 percent advantage right off the bat, plus they get to enjoy much better desserts along the way.

Of course the authors of the study qualified this data by pointing out that they were looking only at mortality rates, not at other issues, but I choose to ignore the small print, just like I ignore the studies that don’t support my outlook.

The way I see it, we might just as well pick and choose the studies we want to believe, because for every study that comes along, there seems to be another one to contradict it.

I am big fan of breakfast, and for years it bugged me that the current research showed that eggs were deadly and to be avoided at all cost.

Now, it turns out that eggs aren’t so bad, and they are a great source of inexpensive protein.

It is frightening to think of how many good breakfasts I would have missed out on had I paid attention to the warnings.

Another area where studies have disagreed concerns alcohol.

For years they told us that drinking was bad for us. We could never understand this, because we always seemed to feel better when we were drinking.

Now, it turns out that a moderate dose of red wine can be an important part of a healthy diet.


Wine is chock-full of wonderful little phytochemicals (naturally occurring plant compounds), can reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, and slow the progression of some neurological disorders.

It can increase “good” cholesterol and help to thin the blood.

It is also a delightful addition to a meal.

The doctors and scientists are forever coming out with new research about all sorts of things. Some of these studies make sense, some do not, so until they get things figured out, I am going to continue to believe the ones I like and ignore the ones I don’t.

Research studies are a lot like statistics. They can be used to prove just about anything.

Often, it seems that things that are established by one study or group of studies can be contradicted by another.

The same is true of statistics.

Not only can they be contradictory, but they are often used to confuse readers or obscure the truth.

We must not forget the words of the wise Professor Aaron Levenstein, who said, “Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.”

I will add the new weight study to my collection, and keep it handy so I can pull it out any time I encounter someone whose definition of what is healthy is a bit too extreme for my taste.