Lost in the Absurdity of Life’s Simple 7

Good cardiovascular health is simple, says the American Heart Association. Just follow Life’s Simple 7. It’s the AHA’s trademark guide to good health. Four ideal health behaviors and three ideal health metrics. The metrics are cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose. The behaviors are eating healthy, being active, not smoking, and having a BMI less than 25. Of course, the absurdity of Life’s Simple 7 is mistaking BMI for a behavior.

This is a fatal flaw.

Imprinted on “Wellness” Programs

But the absurdity of Life’s Simple 7 doesn’t get in the way of embedding it in unhelpful wellness programs.

Here’s a case in point. A good friend recently reported on Twitter that her employer rewards her for taking a health assessment. So she did it – answered all the questions. This nifty program reported that her  BMI is 17.92. “Your BMI category is underweight,” said the feedback.

So the recommendation was to follow Life’s Simple 7. Focus: lose weight. Celebrate: eat better, get active, stop smoking, reduce blood sugar, manage blood pressure, control cholesterol. AHA offers up this one-size-fits-all advice for employers to use for promoting wellness. No doubt, they can fix whatever glitch caused their system to advise someone with a low BMI to lose weight.

Bias Is Not a Simple Glitch to Correct

But the absurdity of Life’s Simple 7 is not a glitch. It is an expression of implicit weight bias. BMI is not a health behavior unless you’ve bought into the biased fiction that obesity is a choice. You must believe this highly heritable characteristic is something that people choose for themselves.

Like cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, BMI is a health metric that predicts health risks. And like all of those measures, it is not something that people can control through aspiration.

AHA should stop promoting the fiction that a low BMI is an ideal health behavior.

Click here and here for further perspective. For the source of these recommendations from 2010, click here. The updated recommendations from AHA can be found here, which reaffirms the flawed Simple 7 paradigm. Finally, for perspective on the heritability of obesity, click here.

Lost in Calculations, painting by Octav Bancila / WikiArt

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February 14, 2021

4 Responses to “Lost in the Absurdity of Life’s Simple 7”

  1. February 14, 2021 at 9:36 am, Michael Jones said:

    How will we – our society in general and the medical community in particular – ever make any headway in appropriately dealing with this epidemic when even some of the most respected organizations and givers of advice do not know the most basic, fundamental understanding of obesity that the avalanche of evidence has shown us these past two decades?!

    • February 14, 2021 at 11:12 am, Ted said:

      Good question, Michael. Slowly, the fact and the science are catching up with myths and bias. But it is maddeningly slow.

  2. February 14, 2021 at 11:33 am, David Brown said:

    Good cardiovascular health IS simple. It’s just that it isn’t what the American Heart Association thinks it is. It’s more in line with what researchers at the University of Bergen think it is. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-01/tuob-npc012221.php
    https://www.uib.no/en/med/103172/very-high-fat-diet-reversed-obesity-and-disease-risk Note that Norway has the lowest COVID-19 mortality in Europe. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/norway/

    And it’s also more in line with what what Siberian Federal University hydrobiology researcher Olesia Makhutova thinks it is. Excerpt:

    “The dietary value of the Yakutian horse meat is very high precisely due to the ideal balance of polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 acids,” Makhutova explains…“The horse meat we tested is also very good, especially for child nutrition and the diet of people suffering from cardiovascular diseases.” https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2020/05/28/fatty-acids-crops-winter-survival-yakutian-horses/

    • February 15, 2021 at 4:24 am, Ted said:

      I’ll pass on the horse meat.