NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 23, 2005

A growing number of researchers accuse obesity experts, public health officials and the media of exaggerating the health effects of the overweight and obesity epidemic, says Scientific American.

At issue is whether rising levels of overweight, or of mild to moderate obesity, are increasing the burden of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

  • Experts agree that severe obesity greatly increases the risk of numerous diseases, but that form of obesity, in which body mass index (BMI) exceeds 40, affects only about one in 12 of the roughly 130 million American adults above the healthy range.
  • In the United States, the prevalence of high blood pressure and high cholesterol dropped by half between 1960 and 2000; furthermore, both declined more steeply among the overweight and obese than among those of healthy weight.
  • For both men and women, being overweight or obese seemed to confer significant protection against lung cancer, by far the most lethal malignancy; that relation held even after the effects of smoking were subtracted.
  • Diabetes could be the only disease directly related to obesity and as many as four percent of U.S. adults might have diabetes because of their obesity -- if fat is in fact the most important cause of the disease -- but it may be that type 2 diabetes causes fatness.

Furthermore, researchers say genetic differences account for 50 to 80 percent of the variation in fatness within a population. What is really going on, they say, 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 weight, and they have largely ignored the complicated health realities associated with being fat.

Source: W. Wayt Gibbs, "Obesity: An Overblown Epidemic," Scientific American, June 2005.


Browse more articles on Health Issues