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Obesity, Smoking, and My Health

I’ve spent a good amount of time this week thinking about weight and smoking. In this month’s issue of Technology Review, we have a story (“Wired to Eat”) examining the link between genetics and obesity. I find the story completely…
June 17, 2005

I’ve spent a good amount of time this week thinking about weight and smoking.

In this month’s issue of Technology Review, we have a story (“Wired to Eat”) examining the link between genetics and obesity. I find the story completely fascinating for a variety of reasons, but mostly because as I get older – and farther away from the athletic shape I was in for most of my life (despite a regular exercise regime) – I find myself spending more time trying to maintain my current fitness level (as opposed to pushing myself to new heights, as I used to).

Health, however, has never really been a concern for me when it comes to working out. I rarely get sick, and I’ve always been fit enough to get out and enjoy sporting activities (despite my smoking habit). I’ve been told that, if I quit smoking before I’m 35 (2 years from now), my body can reverse much of the damage that’s been done to my insides – a fact that is pushing me towards finally dropping the nasty habit.

In other words, smoking doesn’t cause permanent damage – if you stop in time. So, having just finished reading the Wired to Eat article and reading up on the dangers of smoking, I was struck by a story from the Washington Post that Brittany Sauser, one of the Web interns, sent me yesterday:

Fat Discovered to Make You Round and Wrinkled on the Inside

Researchers from the United States and Britain have determined that weight affects the aging process – the more a person weighs the older their cells appear on a molecular level. The reasons: crucial genetic structures inside cells that deteriorate with age are unraveling rapidly and also fat cells release toxic substances in the body making it work to repair itself much faster. With two-thirds of Americans overweight their findings could be central to understanding why obesity is slowly becoming an epidemic.

The question I have, dear readers, is simple: could it be that being overweight is more damaging to your body than smoking? And, the follow up to that: What, if anything, can be done if it turns out that weight is a more dangerous health crisis than smoking?

Smoking hasn’t – yet – kept me from biking, swimming, playing basketball, running around the backyard with my Godchildren. I wonder if that would hold true if I was overweight. (Honestly, I do not know the answer.)

This isn’t, at its base, a comparative question meant to justify smoking. I think we can all agree it’s a nasty habit with no redeeming qualities attached.

However, there is much government time and money spent on holding tobacco companies accountable for the health damages associated with that – and, from what I know, there isn’t an equal amount of government time and money spent on holding anyone accountable for potentially an equally damaging habit.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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