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Mandisa is More Than Her Size! Why There's A Flawed Narrative Around Obesity: Reflecting on the Tragic Passing of a Grammy Winner

On April 18, the music world mourned the loss of a  Grammy winner and 'American Idol' alum who passed away at the age of 47. According to an autopsy report obtained by PEOPLE, the cause of death was listed as complications of class III obesity. This diagnosis has sparked widespread debate and reflection on the role obesity plays in our understanding of health and mortality.

One might question why her weight was mentioned at all in reports of her passing. Why couldn't they have simply stated that she passed away without emphasizing her body size? This focus on weight seems symptomatic of a  pervasive diet culture that aims to instill fear and panic about body size. By highlighting her weight, the narrative shifts the attention away from the individual and their life, reducing their complex health status to a  single, stigmatized characteristic. This kind of reporting perpetuates harmful stereotypes and overlooks the broader context of health, which includes genetics, hormonal imbalances, and the long-term effects of diet cycling, among other factors.

Diet culture's pervasive influence on media and public perception often distorts the conversation around health, equating thinness with well-being and larger body sizes with poor health. This reductionist view fails to account for the many dimensions of health that cannot be measured by weight alone. It's essential to move beyond such simplistic narratives and embrace a  more comprehensive understanding of health that respects and reflects the diversity of human bodies and experiences.

The BMI: A Misleading Measure

The BMI, developed in the early 19th century by Adolphe Quetelet, was never intended to be a  diagnostic tool. Quetelet's aim was to create a  simple measure to assist in assessing the average weight of the population. Today, however, it’s frequently used as a  primary indicator of individual health despite its numerous shortcomings.

  1. Lack of Individual Consideration:

  • The BMI fails to differentiate between muscle and fat. This oversight is particularly significant for athletes or individuals with higher muscle mass, who may be classified as overweight or obese despite being in excellent health.

  • It doesn’t account for differences in body composition across genders. Women, who typically have higher body fat percentages than men, may receive misleading health assessments based on their BMI.

  • Ethnicity also plays a crucial role, as different ethnic groups have varying body fat distributions and metabolic responses.

  1. Overlooking Metabolic Health:

  • Health isn’t merely a function of weight; it encompasses a range of factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, and more. Many individuals classified as obese according to their BMI are metabolically healthy.

  • Studies have shown that a significant portion of individuals with a BMI in the "normal" range have poor metabolic health, while many with higher BMIs do not suffer from these issues.

Genetic and Hormonal Factors

Genetics play a  substantial role in determining body size and composition. Research indicates that up to 70% of an individual's weight variation can be attributed to genetic factors. Hormonal imbalances, such as those seen in conditions like hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can also contribute to weight gain and make weight management more challenging.

The Impact of Diet Cycling

Years of diet cycling, or "yo-yo dieting, "  can have lasting effects on metabolism and body composition. Studies have found that repetitive cycles of weight loss and gain can lead to a  higher percentage of body fat, reduced muscle mass, and a  slower metabolic rate. These factors complicate the simplistic narrative that obesity is merely a  result of poor lifestyle choices.

Rethinking the Obesity Paradigm

It's crucial to approach the conversation about obesity with a  nuanced understanding that goes beyond the BMI and simplistic judgments. Health professionals and researchers are increasingly advocating for a  more comprehensive assessment of health that includes metabolic health markers, genetic predispositions, and the impact of long-term dietary practices.

The tragic death of the Grammy winner and 'American Idol' alum should remind us of the dangers of oversimplifying complex health issues. While obesity is often discussed in relation to various health risks, it is rarely the sole factor in determining an individual's health outcome. By embracing a  more holistic and personalized approach to health, we can move towards a  more accurate and compassionate understanding of the factors that influence our well-being.


Labeling obesity as the definitive cause of death in this case overlooks the intricate web of genetic, hormonal, and lifestyle factors that contribute to an individual's health. It’s a  call to rethink how we measure and understand health, urging us to consider the broader context and the limitations of traditional metrics like the BMI. Only then can we hope to address the root causes of health issues and promote true well-being for everyone.


  1. Tomiyama AJ, et al. (2016). "Misclassification of cardiometabolic health when using body mass index categories in NHANES 2005-2012." International Journal of Obesity.

  2. Wildman RP, et al. (2008). "The obese without cardiometabolic risk factor clustering and the normal weight with cardiometabolic risk factor clustering." Archives of Internal Medicine.

  3. Loos RJ, et al. (2006). "Genetics of obesity: what have we learned?" Nature Reviews Genetics.

  4. Dulloo AG, et al. (2015). "Pathways from dieting to weight regain, to obesity and to the metabolic syndrome: an overview." Obesity Reviews.

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