"The epidemiology of overweight and obesity: public health crisis or moral panic?" by Paul Campos, Abigail Saguy, Paul Ernsberger, Eric Oliver and Glenn Gaesser
(Their answer: moral panic)
While there has been significant weight gain among the heaviest individuals4 the vast majority of people in the ‘overweight’ and ‘obese’ categories are now at weight levels that are only slightly higher than those they or their predecessors were maintaining a generation ago. In other words we are seeing subtle shifts, rather than an alarming epidemic. Biologist Jeffery Friedman offers this analogy: ‘Imagine that the average IQ was 100 and that five percent of the population had an IQ of 140 and were considered to be geniuses. Now let's say that education improves and the average IQ increases to 107 and 10% of the population has an IQ of >140. You could present the data in two ways. You could say that average IQ is up seven points or you could say that because of improved education the number of geniuses has doubled. The whole obesity debate is equivalent to drawing conclusions about national education programmes by saying that the number of geniuses has doubled.’
Claim #4: Significant long-term weight loss is a practical goal, and will improve health.
At present, this claim is almost completely unsupported by the epidemiological literature. It is a remarkable fact that the central premise of the current war on fat—that turning obese and overweight people into so-called ‘normal weight’ individuals will improve their health—remains an untested hypothesis. One main reason the hypothesis remains untested is because there is no method available to produce the result that would have to be produced—significant long-term weight loss, in statistically significant cohorts—in order to test the claim.
Public opinion studies also show that negative attitudes towards the obese are highly correlated with negative attitudes towards minorities and the poor, such as the belief that all these groups are lazy and lack self-control and will power. This suggests that anxieties about racial integration and immigration may be an underlying cause of some of the concern over obesity.
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