Relax--you really do look good in those jeans. Well, maybe not good. But not unhealthy either. University of Colorado's Paul Campos, whose The Diet Myth was reviewed in reason by Jacob Sullum, takes a huge bite out of claims oozing out of Harvard and other elite institutions about obesity and illness.
The Harvard School of Public Health...for many years has been pushing a phony claim with great success. The story is simple: That it's well-established scientific fact that being "overweight"--that is, having a body mass index figure of between 25 and 30--is, in the words of Harvard professors Walter Willett and Meir Stampfer, "a major contributor to morbidity and mortality." This claim has been put forward over and over again by various members of the School of Public Health's faculty, with little or no qualification. According to this line of argument, there's simply no real scientific dispute about the "fact" that average-height women who weigh between 146 and a 174 pounds, and average-height men who weigh between 175 and 209 pounds, are putting their lives and health at risk. Furthermore, according to Willett, such people should try to reduce their weights toward the low end of the government-approved "normal" BMI range of 18.5 to 24.9 (the low end of the range is 108 and 129 pounds for women and men respectively).
It's difficult to exaggerate the extent to which the actual scientific evidence fails to support any of this. In fact, the current evidence suggests that what the Harvard crew is saying is not merely false, but closer to the precise opposite of the truth. For the most part, the so-called "overweight" BMI range doesn't even correlate with overall increased health risk. Indeed "overweight," so-called, often correlates with the lowest mortality rates. (This has led to much chin-scratching over the "paradox" of why "overweight" people often have better average life expectancy and overall health than "normal weight" people. The solution suggested by Occam's Razor--that these definitions make no sense--rarely occurs to those who puzzle over this conundrum)....
A planet where
apes descended from man
where fat people are healthy and skinny people sick? What madness
is this? Campos' whole argument about why the conventional view on
BMI etc. is wrong is well worth reading. And his conclusion as to
why such a weak understanding of the facts dominates public
discussion on the matter is worth pondering, too:
One reason the Harvard claims are treated with such respect is that they tell people what they want to hear. Their claims dovetail perfectly with social prejudices that declare one can never be too rich or too thin, and with the widespread desire to believe that sickness and death can be avoided if one follows the rules laid down by the appropriate authority figures. Combine these factors with the social cachet wielded by the Harvard name, a willingness to make brazen assertions that run from serious exaggerations to outright lies, and lazy journalism of the "some say the Earth is flat; others claim it's round; the truth no doubt lies somewhere in the middle" type...and you have a recipe for an epidemic of wildly misleading statements dressed up in the guise of authoritative scientific discourse.
With the right sauce, btw, wildly misleading statement can taste really good. Whole enchilada, smothered in cheese and sour cream, here.
Hat Tip: Film critic extraordinaire Alan Vanneman.