Thursday, March 6, 2008

Obesity Epidemic? Follow the Money

You turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper and the glaring headlines shout out that we are in the grips of an obesity epidemic. Yet can you really believe all the hype. Who is shouting out the headlines?? Who stands to profit from it?? Check out this:

Obesity: An Overblown Epidemic?: Scientific American

Could it be that excess fat is not, by itself, a serious health risk for the vast majority of people who are overweight or obese--categories that in the U.S. include about six of every 10 adults? Is it possible that urging the overweight or mildly obese to cut calories and lose weight may actually do more harm than good?

Such notions defy conventional wisdom that excess adiposity kills more than 300,000 Americans a year and that the gradual fattening of nations since the 1980s presages coming epidemics of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and a host of other medical consequences. Indeed, just this past March the New England Journal of Medicine presented a "Special Report," by S. Jay Olshansky, David B. Allison and others that seemed to confirm such fears. The authors asserted that because of the obesity epidemic, "the steady rise in life expectancy during the past two centuries may soon come to an end." Articles about the special report by the New York Times, the Washington Post and many other news outlets emphasized its forecast that obesity may shave up to five years off average life spans in coming decades.

And yet an increasing number of scholars have begun accusing obesity experts, public health officials and the media of exaggerating the health effects of the epidemic of overweight and obesity. The charges appear in a recent flurry of scholarly books, including The Obesity Myth, by Paul F. Campos (Gotham Books, 2004); The Obesity Epidemic: Science, Morality and Ideology, by Michael Gard and Jan Wright (Routledge, 2005); Obesity: The Making of an American Epidemic, by J. Eric Oliver (Oxford University Press, August 2005); and a book on popular misconceptions about diet and weight gain by Barry Glassner (to be published in 2006 by HarperCollins).

These critics, all academic researchers outside the medical community, do not dispute surveys that find the obese fraction of the population to have roughly doubled in the U.S. and many parts of Europe since 1980. And they acknowledge that obesity, especially in its extreme forms, does seem to be a factor in some illnesses and premature deaths.

They allege, however, that experts are blowing hot air when they warn that overweight and obesity are causing a massive, and worsening, health crisis. They scoff, for example, at the 2003 assertion by Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that "if you looked at any epidemic--whether it's influenza or plague from the Middle Ages--they are not as serious as the epidemic of obesity in terms of the health impact on our country and our society." (An epidemic of influenza killed 40 million people worldwide between 1918 and 1919, including 675,000 in the U.S.)

What is really going on, asserts Oliver, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, is that "a relatively small group of scientists and doctors, many directly funded by the weight-loss industry, have created an arbitrary and unscientific definition of overweight and obesity. They have inflated claims and distorted statistics on the consequences of our growing weights, and they have largely ignored the complicated health realities associated with being fat."

The overweight segment of the "epidemic of overweight and obesity" is more likely reducing death rates than boosting them.

That's right...being overweight is actually better for your health than being thin. It is called the "obesity paradox". So why the big outcry of an "obesity epidemic". It's simple---follow the money.

Experts on both sides of the obesity debate have often criticized WHO's overweight and obesity measures, saying they are too low.

When WHO defined the body mass index scores constituting normal, overweight and obese, they appeared to be the result of an independent expert committee convened by WHO.

Yet the 1997 Geneva consultation was held jointly with the International Obesity Task Force, an advocacy group whose self-described mission is "to inform the world about the urgency of the (obesity) problem."

According to the task force's most recent available annual report, more than 70 percent of their funding came from Abbott Laboratories and F. Hoffman La-Roche, companies which make top-selling anti-fat pills.

The task force remains one of Europe's most influential obesity advocacy groups and continues to work closely with WHO.

The blurred lines between pharmaceutical money and obesity groups have also caused concern in Britain. In 2006, one of the country's top obesity doctors quit the organization he founded to combat obesity, the National Obesity Forum, complaining that its goals had been skewed by drug money.

"There's not a lot of money in trying to debunk obesity, but a huge amount in making sure it stays a big problem," said Patrick Basham, a professor of health care policy at Johns Hopkins University.

There is much money to be made by keeping people worried about obesity. The diet industry is a multi billion dollar industry. If diets actually worked, we would all be thin. Plus dieting in an of itself can cause the health problems often associated with being obese.

"About 75 percent of American adults are trying to lose or maintain weight at any given time," reports Ali H. Mokdad, chief of the CDC's behavioral surveillance branch. A report in February by Marketdata Enterprises estimated that in 2004, 71 million Americans were actively dieting and that the nation spent about $46 billion on weight-loss products and services.

Dieting has been rampant for many years, and bariatric surgeries have soared in number from 36,700 in 2000 to roughly 140,000 in 2004, according to Marketdata. Yet when Flegal and others examined the CDC's most recent follow-up survey in search of obese senior citizens who had dropped into a lower weight category, they found that just 6 percent of nonobese, older adults had been obese a decade earlier.

Campos argues that for many people, dieting is not merely ineffective but downright counterproductive. A large study of nurses by Harvard Medical School doctors reported last year that 39 percent of the women had dropped weight only to regain it; those women later grew to be 10 pounds heavier on average than women who did not lose weight.

Weight-loss advocates point to two trials that in 2001 showed a 58 percent reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes among people at high risk who ate better and exercised more. Participants lost little weight: an average of 2.7 kilograms after two years in one trial, 5.6 kilograms after three years in the other.

Stop buying into the fantasy of being thin. You are able to find good health at any size. All without obsessing over a number on a scale. Throw away that hunk of metal, return to normal, healthful eating, get active in your daily life---no that doesn't mean forking over money to the gym either. It means going for a walk, playing with the kids or the pooch, throwing on some music and dancing for the sheer joy of it.

Bottom line, accept yourself for who you are---not what others feel you ought to be.


OhYeahBabe said...

RIGHT ON! I totally agree with you. Thanks so much for this post!
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