Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Obesity Wars

About a week or so a go, a study came out showing that being moderately overweight is actually a cause of fewer deaths than being underweight.

Quote from The abstract of the study (you have to buy it to read the whole thing): "Conclusion: Underweight and obesity, particularly higher levels of obesity, were associated with increased mortality relative to the normal weight category. The impact of obesity on mortality may have decreased over time, perhaps because of improvements in public health and medical care. These findings are consistent with the increases in life expectancy in the United States and the declining mortality rates from ischemic heart disease."

Main findings:

  • Deaths associated with underweight (BMI<18.5): +33,746
  • Deaths associated with overweight (BMI 25-29.9): -86,094 (i.e., overweight "saved" lives")
  • Deaths associated with obesity (BMI>30): +111,909

Read The New York Times article on the study. (user name: redjenny4 password: redjenny)

The report doesn't say that obesity isn't a problem! Firstly, it correctly demonstrates that BMI is an imperfect measure of possible obesity (a body builder can have a BMI classification of obese, but have 5% body fat). The study also correctly points out that being underweight isn't healthy either, especially with the accompanying neurotic food mentality and "thin is in" superstar body types.

The study shows that being moderately overweight isn't going to kill you. well, duh! being 20 lbs overweight is no big deal! It is the extreme of obesity that has the health risks, not carrying a little extra "junk in the truck"! Especially if you are overweight, but exercise and eat healthy. That's going to give you an advantage over someone who is sedentary and eats crap all the time, but has a genetically slim build, or high metabolism. Or someone who doesn't eat enough and is malnourished. The study only looked at premature death and not increased morbidity and disability, or chronic disease (diabetes, managed heart disease, high blood pressure) which are more and more manageable thanks to modern medicine, but may seriously impede quality of life.

so that's what a balanced read of the study shows.

The media, of course, is all over this, with headlines reading "Obesity is not that dangerous after all!", "Bon Appetit!", "Whoppers and the End of an Epidemic", "The public health community's massive fib"

The fast food industry and chain restaurants LOVED this. Their PR and marketing is jumping on this! They are practically calling the long standing recommendations to eat healthy and exercise a conspiracy! Check out these sites: and

These sites promotes things like fear of organic foods (covered in manure) and hurrahs for soft drinks: "The latest phony food scare centers on soft drinks and their alleged link to type 2 diabetes" and are against apparent prohibition sponsors MADD.


Their "about us" says the "Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit coalition of restaurants, food companies, and consumers working together to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices. The growing cabal of "food cops," health care enforcers, militant activists, meddling bureaucrats, and violent radicals who think they know "what's best for you" are pushing against our basic freedoms. We're here to push back." They equate knowledge with control - I guess telling someone that overeating junk food every day isn't healthy is curtailing their consumer freedom.

Aside: I like the way they call me a consumer, not a citizen or human being.

My favourite line is: "We believe that only you know what's best for you." I guess doctors, scientists and nutritionists are all just meddling activists. My knowledge gleaned from ads and marketing that barrages me all day is obviously better than the knowledge they learn in 5-15 years of high level schooling... But what do they know? If I believe a pound of butter, a cigar and a bottle of whisky is good for me, I must be right!

Center for Consumer Freedom is a front group for Berman & Co., a PR company representing the restaurant chains, alcohol and tobacco industries. More info about them here:

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