Filed Under: Big Fat Lies

The Obesity Bandwagon: Crowded, But Still Unfounded

This week, the popular online magazine Slate ran a long overdue article aptly titled “It’s time to shut up about ‘the cost of obesity.’” In the piece, science editor Daniel Engber calls out several self-proclaimed public health advocates (including presidential candidates and nutrition activists) for grossly overstating the costs of obesity in order to achieve their own political ends:

Politicians love to throw around cost-of-obesity numbers as support for fat-prevention programs, overeating legislation, or, in the case of Senators Obama and Clinton, massive health-care reform. These shocking statistics are also supposed to guilt-trip consumers into pursuing a healthier lifestyle …
This chew-and-screw narrative feeds on itself. First, it inflates the numbers by ignoring the real effects of an aging population. Then it promotes bias by supplying phony evidence that heavy people are lazy, useless, and a drag on the nation …
We’re all interested in the most efficient ways to extend life spans and improve our quality of life. But the rhetoric of wasted fat dollars does little for our health; the claim that obesity costs the government $1 trillion is absurd at best and self-fulfilling at worst. Instead, the presidential candidates should pledge support for a federal ban on weight-based discrimination. If we stop blaming fat people for our problems, they might start feeling better—and start saving us money.

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