Gospel Singer Mandisa Dies 30 Years Early Due to Obesity


An autopsy report for the Grammy-Award-winning gospel singer Mandisa Lynn Hundley revealed the former “American Idol” star died from complications of severe obesity.

On Tuesday, People magazine reported Mandisa died in April at just 47 years old after struggling with class III obesity.

“The report said the star was found dead in her home by friends on April 18, and that she ‘was last known alive approximately three weeks’ earlier,” read the magazine. “Her manner of death is listed as natural.” But should wealthy developed nations such as the United States accept death from a preventable condition as “natural?”

The Cleveland Clinic characterizes class III obesity, formerly designated “morbid obesity,” as an individual who “has a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher or a BMI of 35 or higher and is experiencing obesity-related health conditions.” According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), life expectancy for women in the United States is more than 80 years. In other words, Mandisa died more than 30 years younger than she otherwise might have had she not suffered from severe obesity.

Does that mean Mandisa died from personal neglect? No. A self-professed Zumba fan, the five-time Grammy nominee was certainly active but most likely followed bad nutrition guidelines having grown up in the era of the low-fat diet craze. Fat storage is determined by complex interactions between hormones and enzymes that have far more to do with diet than exercise.

Millions of other Americans now living with obesity and chronic disease can relate to Mandisa after spending decades replacing dietary fat with high-carb junk food promoted to the public as “healthy.” The collective empathy helped propel the “American Idol” contestant to new heights when the show’s primary judge, Simon Cowell, mocked the Tennessee singer’s weight at her 2005 audition.

“Could we have a bigger stage this year?” he asked after Mandisa left the room. When Paula Abdul compared Mandisa to Frenchie Davis, Cowell said a better comparison was “France.”

Cowell’s weight-based comments drew criticism from the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), and in 2008 Mandisa said the remarks were the impetus for the name of her first studio album, “True Beauty,” in 2007.

Mandisa confronted Cowell’s comments on television before the show dwindled down to two dozen contestants.

“You hurt me and I cried, but I want you to know that I’ve forgiven you,” she said. Cowell said he was “humbled” by the exchange.

Even more humbling, however, is the tragic nature of extreme obesity itself.

Recent research suggests the natural limit to human lifespan could reach 150. But the American lifespan seems to have plateaued in the upper 70s while our healthspan, in reference to our age in good health absent chronic disease, seems to be declining. Six in 10 U.S. adults have at least one chronic illness, while 4 in 10 have two or more as chronic conditions account for 90 percent of the $4.5 trillion in American health care expenditures every year, according to the CDC.

Nearly 42 percent of Americans are categorically obese, according to the CDC. Risks associated with obesity include breathing problems, cancers, myriad chronic diseases, and early death. It’s far from an exaggeration to suspect American life expectancy would be much higher if the nation kept its weight in check, as Big Food and Big Pharma collude to enable the lifestyle habits that are making our neighbors sick in the first place.

Tristan Justice
Tristan Justice
Tristan Justice is our western correspondent and the author of Social Justice Redux, a conservative newsletter on culture, health, and wellness. He has also written for The Washington Examiner and The Daily Signal. His work has also been featured in Real Clear Politics and Fox News. Tristan graduated from George Washington University where he majored in political science and minored in journalism.

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