NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Does Obesity Really Lead to a Shorter Life?

March 22, 2011

Since the anti-obesity campaign is allegedly motivated by scientific findings, it would seem reasonable and prudent to make doubly sure that those claims are factual and trustworthy.  Yet, it is continually found that the case against obesity is significantly flawed, say Patrick Basham, a Cato Institute adjunct scholar, and John Luik, a Democracy Institute senior fellow.

There is little credible scientific evidence that supports the claims that being overweight or obese leads to an early death.

  • For example, Katherine Flegal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in the U.S. population there were more premature deaths among those who are normal weight than those who are overweight.
  • Indeed, in this study, Americans who were overweight were those most likely to live the longest.
  • In the American Journal of Public Health, Jerome Gronniger found that men in the "normal" weight category exhibited a mortality rate as high as that of men in the moderately obese category; men in the "overweight" category had the lowest mortality risk.
  • Moreover, a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that looked at alternative measures of obesity, such as percentage of body fat, skin-fold thickness, waist circumference, and waist-hip ratio, found even less scientific support for the alleged fat-equals-early-death thesis.
  • The authors report that for the intermediate level of each of the alternative measures of obesity, there was a negative link with mortality -- in other words, those with a higher waist circumference or a higher percentage of body fat had lower mortality rates.

All of which should serve as a reminder that the success of the obesity crusade rests not on the truth of its science, but on the way in which the obesity entrepreneurs use that science to change policy.  Going forward, better policymaking will require, at a minimum, a far greater appreciation of the way in which science and its findings are both misrepresented and used to distort the regulatory process, say Basham and Luik.

Source: Patrick Basham and John Luik, "How the War on Obesity Went Pear-Shaped," Spiked Online, March 15, 2011.

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