Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Hot Flashes: Now Especially for Fat Ladies

July 14th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling
Photo of art by Czarnobyl by Flickr user urbanartcore.eu || CC 2.0

Photo of art by Czarnobyl by Flickr user urbanartcore.eu || CC 2.0

Since yesterday, although it seems longer, my RSS reader has been clogged with links to news reports about a UCSF study in which some women who lost weight found that their hot flashes diminished. Of course, that’s not what the headlines say. Here’s a sample of some of the titles of current stories about this study on Google news:

  • Hot Flash Relief: Weight Loss Works, What Doesn’t? (US News & World Report)
  • Bad hot flashes? Try dropping a few pounds (MSNBC.com)
  • Losing weight may ease menopause symptoms (NBC13.com)
  • Symptoms of Menopause Can Be Relieved by Weight Loss (Health News)
  • Weight Loss Helped Overweight And Obese Women Reduce Hot Flushes (Medical News Today)

OK, that’s enough – see the trend? Suddenly weight loss is the cure for hot flashes. But in the actual study – which was about urinary incontinence, not menopause -141 women provided researchers with data about their hot flash symptoms six months after the study began. Sixty-five of the 141 women said they were less bothered by their hot flashes six months after participating in the weight loss program, 53 reported no change, and 23 women reported a worsening of symptoms.

Look at those numbers again, more slowly this time: 65 of 141 women who participated in a weight loss program were less bothered by hot flashes after six months. That’s 46% of the women – less than half – who found relief. Almost as many reported no change in symptoms, so why is this being touted as a successful intervention?

Because the women lost weight. Most of the news reports of this research stop just short of fat-shaming, but I submit that is exactly why this study is getting so much media attention. Even though it is well-established that diets do not work, even if you call them a “lifestyle change” or “a whole new way of eating”, and that the BMI (Body Mass Index) is useless as a gauge of health. In fact, fat is not a measure of health. But why pass up an opportunity to shame women about their bodies?

  

4 Responses to “Hot Flashes: Now Especially for Fat Ladies”

  1. Spilt Milk says:

    How often to hot flashes start to resolve within six months? It seems to me that there could be a range of reasons unrelated to weight loss that helped some of those 65 women feel an improvement in their symptoms. Thanks for drawing attention to this – diet-spruiking is everywhere, and any medical complaint is automatically blamed on weight. It’s wrong and so damaging.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Arwyn, re:Cycling. re:Cycling said: New post at re:Cycling – Hot Flashes: Now Especially for Fat Ladies http://bit.ly/99m9CD [...]

  3. Elizabeth Kissling says:

    Thanks, Spilt Milk.

    Hot flashes *can* last for years, but you’re right, they may begin to improve for any number of reasons.

    I also note that the wording in the abstract and the most detailed summary of the study (I don’t have access to the full article) is that the women were less bothered by hot flashes after six months. Could it be that after six months of putting up with hot flashes, they’ve developed coping skills? The hot flashes aren’t necessarily gone, they’re just not as bothersome.

  4. Lisa says:

    Thank you for the great post. I also appreciate your inclusion of all the useful links together in the last paragraph! A colleague of mine has started a blog about fat bodies and sizeism among other things. Let me know if you want to check it out and I’ll email you the link. I hate posting unsolicited links in blog comments.

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