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Many college students seem to have an unhealthy obsession with being a “healthy weight.” As both a self-conscious teen and a health nut who hasn’t touched a cookie in about two weeks (but who’s counting?), I can sympathize. Whether attaining the perfect size means trying crash diets, depriving ourselves of our favorite foods or feeling unattractive because of an extra five pounds that may or may not be there, many young adults have been victimized by the skinny ideals parading throughout the media and into our consciousness.

Weight has been a popular topic of debate ever since Twiggy entered the modeling arena in the 1960s. But does being thin always correlate with good health, and vise versa? When it comes to issues of weight, things may not be as black and white as they seem.

Overweight may actually be healthy. A study conducted by Kaiser, Statistics Canada and McGill found that those who are overweight are 17-percent less likely to die early than those who are normal weights. The farther you deviate from a body mass index of 25-29.9, the higher your risk of fatality from any number of illnesses. The study also points out that being underweight is actually much worse than belonging to any other weight category. Those who are underweight are about 70-percent more likely to die an untimely death than those who are obese.

How is it possible that being anything but thin can be healthy? William Dietz of the Center for Disease Control’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity stated in Newsweek that the obesity epidemic was seen as a major threat, even before all the evidence was available because “[the center] didn’t feel like [it] could wait for the best possible evidence, so [it] acted on the best available evidence.”

However, there were problems with this pro-active course of action. Body Mass Index, formulated by the World Health Organization, is itself based on flawed reasoning. After several preliminary studies found that a BMI above 25 led to increased health risks, the WHO hastily established it as the overweight threshold, even though two-thirds of Americans surpass it. New research argues that this is not the true threshold, but we have already been taught to fear fat.

Since it’s possible to be overweight while living a healthy lifestyle, I don’t think we can afford to treat weight as a scapegoat for fatal illnesses, or for the media and peers to stress that “thin is in.” The consequences of this brainwashing are more serious than just a lowered self esteem and increased sugar cravings. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia “have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness,” according to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health. They affect both men and women, and members of every socioeconomic and ethnic group, though unequivocally. And even if eating disorders don’t kill you, they put you at increased risk of other physical disorders, such as osteoporosis.

This pressure to be thin has manifested itself in dangerous ways, according to students. A College junior who wished to remain anonymous for fear of upsetting her friends said she knew people who went on crazy diets and even started smoking in an effort to be thin.

Other students, though, have a more sensible attitude about weight. “To me, health is a very practical thing,” said College sophomore Jake Tolan. “Health is a lot more than just weight.”

Even though it may be healthier to have a little extra meat, there’s no need to order a Big Mac from McDonald’s just yet. Taking care of yourself is still important. So play sports, eat fresh fruits and veggies, get your beauty sleep and don’t be afraid to occasionally indulge in, say, a plate of cookies. Just make sure to stay away from the scale.

Laura Cofsky is a College sophomore from New York. Her e-mail address is Penn Name appears on Fridays.

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