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BEING PLUMP ONCE MEANT GOOD HEALTH

Until abundant food and sedentary lives combined to form mass obesity, plumpness was often coveted, flaunted as an indicator of health and wealth.

To stone-age man, the Venus of Willendorf -- a voluptuous sculpture with enormous breasts and a bulbous belly -- was worthy of celebration. Today, she would probably be put on a weightloss programme.

Famously, Rubens, the 16th-century Flemish painter, preferred the fuller figure, depicting fleshy, large-bottomed women as the life-giving goddesses of beauty, sexuality and fertility in The Three Graces (1635).

Though portliness could be bad when it demonstrated other vices (cartoonists decided that George IV's extravagance was most easily shown in his girth), generally, the modern-age dislikes fat.

The fashion industry sells its garments on skinny models: in 2009, Kate Moss was estimated to have a BMI of 16. Yet not all societies, even now, accept this. Samoans, Puerto Ricans and Tanzanians still celebrate largeness.

Even in Western societies, there are differences. In a survey by Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, white women were found to worry about their weight when their BMI hit 25, black women when it nudged 30.

With obesity straining health services, "fat phobia" is on the rise. A third of US doctors thought obese patients weak-willed, sloppy and lazy. This latest study suggest that we may need to take a broader view.