NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

OBESITY DATA IS FAT ON POLITICS, SAYS RESEARCHER

June 9, 2004

Contrary to media hype, Americans are not getting fatter and fatter, according to Dr. Jeffrey Friedman of Rockefeller University.

Dr. Friedman, an obesity researcher and discoverer of the gene for leptin (a hormone released by fat cells), points out that careful analysis of the data shows that nothing has changed since 1991 for people toward the lower end of the weight distribution:

  • Those on the "thin" side of the weight distribution have remained consistent throughout the year.
  • Those in the mid-range of the weight distribution have experienced an increase of 6 or 7 pounds, and those considered massively obese have experienced the greatest weight gain of 25 to 30 pounds.
  • In 1991, 23 percent of the population was considered obese, while currently 31 percent is considered obese.

In general, however, the average individual weight has increased by only 7 to 10 pounds since 1991. So the obesity "epidemic" has affected a small proportion of the population that is already obese, but it is not by any means of epidemic proportions.

While individuals have some control of their weight within a 10 to 15 pound range through diet and exercise, weight is primarily determined by genetics. Even people that lose large amounts of weight through dieting tend to put it back on over time, explains Friedman.

Additionally, most people maintain a steady weight (within a 10-pound range) over time, says Friedman.

Source: Gina Kolata, "The Fat Epidemic: He Says It's An Illusion," New York Times, June 8, 2004. News Release, "Obesity: It May Be How You're Wired," Howard Hughes Medical Institute, April 2, 2004.

For study brief: http://www.hhmi.org/news/pdf/friedman5.pdf

 

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