After trumpeting the highest estimate a year ago and warning that obesity deaths were poised to overtake those caused by tobacco, CDC officials now say that numbers are unimportant … But some of CDC’s own scientists disagree. "It’s hard to argue that death is not an important public health statistic," says David Williamson, an epidemiologist in CDC’s diabetes division and an author on the paper with the 112,000 deaths estimate.
— Science magazineAn article in this week’s issue of Science magazine, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, describes the controversy over the CDC’s exaggerated estimate that 400,000 Americans die each year because of excess weight. A more recent study from researchers at the CDC, led by Dr. Katherine Flegal, indicates the number is much, much lower. Echoing our earlier comments to USA Today and theHouston Chronicle, Science reports: "Scientists agree that Flegal’s study is superior."The magazine reproduced our full-page "obesity hype" ad that we placed in major newspapers across the country, and quotes us saying: "The singular focus on weight has been misguided."When Science requested an interview with the authors of the original 400,000-deaths study, "CDC spokesperson John Madder said that Mokdad and his co-author were not available to be interviewed." As we noted in November of last year, Mokdad wasn’t willing to talk to us, either.Thankfully, the CDC’s stonewall hasn’t stopped others from coming clean. University of Alabama professor Dr. D.B. Allison, who was responsible for developing the original method used by the CDC to get the now debunked 400,000-deaths estimate, "concedes that in retrospect, his decision not to stratify by age was a mistake," according to Science. As we’ve pointed out before, that mistake led to a significant overestimation of the obesity problem.While it’s great to see a respected journal likeScience make sense of the CDC’s obesity-deaths debacle, all the above information is old hat for our regular readers. But there is some new news. You may remember a highly publicized March 2005 study suggesting that obesity could cause this generation of children to live shorter life spans than their parents. Although the study had myriad flaws, it has since been invoked by former President Clinton, CDC Director Julie Geberding, and many others. Now the lead author of that study, University of Illinois professor S. Jay Olshansky, appears to be backing off his conclusions. According toScience:
Olshansky now says that in light of Flegal’s recent paper on obesity deaths and a companion paper that she, Williamson, and other CDC scientists authored in the same issues ofJAMA, his life expectancy forecasts might be inaccurate.