Filed Under: Big Fat Lies

The Crusade Against Fat Will Lumber On

Will government bureaucrats and financially conflicted researchers ever stop hyping obesity? "Don't count on it," writes New York Times reporter Gina Kolata in a story titled "Study Aside, Fat-Fighting Industry Vows to Stick to Its Mission." Yes, excess weight causes just one-fifteenth the number of deaths the CDC previously reported, and yes, a growing number of opinion leaders are calling on the agency to come clean, but a spokesman tells Kolata the CDC will "continue to mount a full-court press" on the issue. Kolata reports that according to the CDC's "recently published research, those whose weight put them at a moderately greater risk of death turn out to be a narrowly defined group: people under age 70 with a body mass index of 35 or above." Read that again. The "moderately greater risk" only occurs in this "narrowly defined group" — a far cry from the regularly recycled but bogus claim that 65 percent of us are dangerously overweight (body mass index of 25 and above). So why the hysteria? Kolota notes:

[S]ome social critics and medical researchers say that because there are so many groups with an entrenched interest in crusading against fat it is unlikely that the obesity epidemic will be declared over anytime soon … [T]he idea of an epidemic, some critics say, is in the financial interest of weight loss centers, supplement makers, drug companies and purveyors of diet books and diet programs.

Amen. Kolata goes on to relay an interesting story from Dr. Eric Oliver, a University of Chicago economist who recently finished a book on the politics of obesity:

At lectures and other events, many sponsored by drug or medical supply companies, Dr. Oliver heard about the dangers of obesity. "Wherever possible," he said, "data were interpreted to portray obesity as a major problem, no matter how weak the actual findings were." One talk, he said, involved data correlating obesity with the risk of deaths from auto accidents, with the preliminary finding that obese men are more likely than thinner people to die when they are in a car crash. Such a conclusion would contradict the so-called obesity paradox — the frequent observation cited by experts like Dr. Katherine Flegal, a statistician at the C.D.C., that the obese tend to fare better than thinner people if they are sick or injured. Dr. Oliver said he was surprised that the proposed link between obesity and auto fatalities was taken so seriously. But he said he realized that "an association that is dedicated to the study of obesity presumes that obesity is a problem."

Defending such a presumption, Dr. Louis Aronne, who heads up the pharmaceutical industry-funded North American Association for the Study of Obesity, told Kolota that there was no reason to single out obesity researchers for taking pharmaceutical money. He explained: "I would say the same thing about any professional association."

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