NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 22, 2006

Conventional thinking that links obesity with increased likelihood of disease and death is wrong, say University of Chicago political scientist J. Eric Oliver and University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos.

In Oliver's "Fat Politics," and  Campos' "The Diet Myth," each reaches similar conclusions about the link, or lack thereof:

  • First and foremost, they argue that, except for certain conditions associated with very high Body Mass Indexes (BMIs), there is little evidence that extra weight per se causes health problems.
  • To the extent that fatness is correlated with illness, they maintain, it is primarily because fatness is associated with "poor diet and inactivity" -- factors that independently raise the risk of certain diseases.
  • Oliver and Campos say these habits, which are more common among fat people are also shared by many thin people.
  • Campos also emphasizes the health risks of repeatedly losing and regaining weight.

Further, Oliver and Campos question the reality of the "obesity epidemic," beginning with the very definition of overweight and obese:

  • In 1985, Oliver notes, a consensus conference convened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommended that men and women be considered "overweight" at BMIs of 27.8 and 27.3, respectively.
  • In 1996 an NIH-sponsored review of the literature found that "increased mortality typically was not evident until well beyond a BMI level of 30."
  • Yet two years later, the NIH yielded to a World Health Organization recommendation that "overweight" be defined downward to a BMI of 25, with 30 or more qualifying as "obese."
  • Oliver says "the scientific 'evidence' to justify this change" -- which made millions of Americans overweight overnight -- "was nonexistent," since "there is no uniform point on the BMI scale where all these diseases [linked to weight] become more evident."

Source: Jacob Sullum, "Lay Off The Fatties," Reason Magazine, November 2006.

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