Obesity

If Everyone Is Overweight, Is Anyone?

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"If current trends continue," says a new study in the journal Obesity, "all American adults" will be "overweight or obese" in four decades, imposing a heavy burden on the public treasury. One of the authors concedes that positing the indefinite continuation of "current trends" is "a big assumption." (In five decades, will more than 100 percent of the population be overweight?) I see some other problematic premises:

1. Since upward weight trends seem to have leveled off in recent years among both adults and children, the "current trends" are actually past trends, and so far they're not continuing.

2. The official definition of overweight seems increasingly arbitrary, especially since people who are overweight (but not obese) have lower mortality rates (during the study period) than people whose weight is deemed "healthy."

3. According to a widely cited estimate of weight-related health care costs, being merely overweight is not associated with a statistically significant increase in taxpayer-funded medical expenses.

4. Among the obese, extra annual health care costs seem to be offset by shorter life spans, so the net result (as with smoking) is to reduce taxpayer-funded expenses.

Yet the researchers insist that "timely, dramatic, and effective development and implementation of corrective programs/policies are needed to avoid the otherwise inevitable health and societal consequences implied by our projections." Translation: Give us more money for our vitally important research, or by 2048 we're all going to look like the levitating lard-asses in WALL-E.

I have no doubt the study's authors are sincere, but people have a remarkable ability to persuade themselves that what's in their interest is also in the public interest. It does not take a hardened cynic to suggest that obesity researchers publishing studies in the journal of the American Obesity Society might have an incentive to hype the threat posed by obesity. Yet one searches the resulting Reuters story in vain for a skeptical voice.

Here is my 2004 reason feature about the War on Fat.

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  1. Certainly, if trends continue, everyone will be labeled obese. Including people who are six feet tall and weigh 100 pounds.

  2. I’ve been screeching about this for years. What we call overweight is nothing of the kind. Unhealthy, has far more to do with lack of exercise than body fat. One has to be grossly overweight to be obese. If you get off your ass and work up a sweat a few times a weak, that is going to be much healthier than starving yourself trying to get the fat off. Indeed the stick thin bodies this culture admires are decidedly unhealthy.

  3. If Everyone Is Overweight, Is Anyone?

    If you are using a criterion referenced definition, yes, everyone is.

  4. I have no doubt the study’s authors are sincere

    You are much more deferential than I.

  5. I’ve seen similar arguments regarding cholesterol: Since any (bad) cholesterol is um, bad, then absolutely everyone’s bad cholesterol is “too high” and therefore absolutely everyone should be on statins. Etc.

  6. What a load of shit! I hate studies like this. Everyone will be obese? Really? Cuz I run 2 miles at the very least 3 days a week.

  7. tp hype? T.P. is more than just hype, it’s a good idea (especially if you’re single).

  8. If these trends are true, why are the studies authors not investing in buffet restaurants?

  9. If current trends continue,” says a new study in the journal Obesity, “all American adults” will be “overweight or obese” in four decades, imposing a heavy burden on the public treasury.

    Hmm, I’m thinking of solution to this ‘public treasury’ problem… anyone know what it is?

  10. All yuor fat asses are belong to us.

  11. heh.. “BBW Romance” ad on the side of this page

  12. a lot of the “epidemic” talk does seem hysterical. but then, Americans are really pretty damn fat.

  13. Your momma’s so fat, she’s responsible for the government survey on obesity saying that 108% of the country is overweight.

  14. It does not take a hardened cynic to suggest that obesity researchers publishing a reporter for a libertarian rag discussing studies in the journal of the American Obesity Society might have an incentive tp hype the threat posed by obesity research.

  15. One of the authors concedes that positing the indefinite continuation of “current trends” is “a big assumption.”

    “Get it?! BIG ASSumption! Ha ha! Get it? Ehhhhh….”

  16. Nue–One of them wants to be left the hell alone, the other most likely wants to gain control of others’ personal habits through legislation or other compulsory means (if they follow the usual public health M.O.).

    Which is more justified in being the cynic?

  17. It does not take a hardened cynic to suggest that obesity researchers publishing a reporter for a libertarian rag discussing studies in the journal of the American Obesity Society scientific research might have an incentive tp hype the threat posed by obesity that research.

  18. It does not take a hardened cynic to suggest that Jacob Sullum might have an incentive tp hype the threat posed by an research suggesting a societal problem might actually exist.

  19. any research, that is

  20. Well, if I go around saying that all adults will be nine-feet tall in fifty years, scorn is my just reward.

    As I understand it, this is how the Soylent Corporation gets its start.

  21. Timely, dramatic, and effective development and implementation of corrective programs/policies are needed to avoid the otherwise inevitable health and societal consequences implied by our projections.

    My projections show that by 2035 our society will collapse from policies driven by confirmation bias and all our resources should immediately be focused on a solution. If you think I’m biased towards my research, well, that just proves my point.

  22. JW-6:23

    Exactly. Thank you. I can’t speak for Neu Mej ican’s intent, satire or otherwise, but, only half of his proposition is demonstrably true.

  23. Changing the shape of the future. One body at a time. thank you McDonalds et. al.

    JT
    http://www.FireMe.To/udi

  24. Yup, I’m grossly Obese …

    All 6′ 148lbs of me.

    We need a war on Cholesterol … barring that we should just declare war on fat people. /tongueincheek

  25. but, only half of his proposition is demonstrably true.

    Which half?

  26. If current trends continue

    Did you know that disco record sales were up 400% for the year ending 1976? If these trends continues… AAY!

  27. but, only half of his proposition is demonstrably true.

    Which half?

    The other half.

  28. I have no doubt the study’s authors are sincere, but people have a remarkable ability to persuade themselves that what’s in their interest is also in the public interest.

    Is this about the $10M gov’t program to build a gold statue of myself? Because that’s for the children, man.

  29. Try our delicious new Green flavor!

  30. One of them wants to be left the hell alone, the other most likely wants to gain control of others’ personal habits through legislation or other compulsory means (if they follow the usual public health M.O.).

    Which is more justified in being the cynic?

    The standard “public health M.O.” is to provide information, support/treatment, and, perhaps, incentives to individuals at risk.

    But, of course, the researcher’s motivation, taking the most cynical attitude, is not control of people’s personal habits (through whatever means), but increased research funding.

    So your formulation really makes very little sense.

    As a cynic I would claim that both are motivated by the exact same reward: continued employment at a job they, perhaps, prefer to other ways of making a living.

  31. If Everyone Is Overweight, Is Anyone?

    You just blew my mind. 🙂

  32. The lamest thing is that obesity needs its own fucking journal. I’m sure its just full of credibility.

  33. Mejican:

    Control of people’s personal habits and political influence will lead them right to more precious fucking research money.

    The other guy just wants them, and you, to shut the fuck up.

  34. Neu Mej ican-

    As a cynic, I just can’t buy the conflation of the motives of the “Public Health Mafia”, in general, and its obesity racket, in particular, with those of Jacob Sullum.

  35. According to the BMI, I am mildly overweight. This is pretty odd considering my six-pack, and I’m no one’s definition of jacked. Fit? Sure, but I’m not going to win Mr. Olympia now or ever.

    Having said that, it’s definitely true that a lot of people are fat. I would be curious to see the mortality break-down of the “overweight” BMI category by bodyfat percentage. Obviously, my 26 BMI with ~10% bodyfat is very different from a 26 BMI with ~25% bodyfat (which is entirely possible).

  36. If “overweight” people are living longer than “normal” people, then they are not really overweight. A healthy weight range should be defined in terms of longevity and not physical attractiveness.

    I recently earned my EMT certification. While interning in a hospital, I think I discovered the real reason that the medical community wants their patients to lose weight: Fat people are harder to lift.

  37. Randolf Hearst should have pushed for a ban on sugar.

  38. Neu Mejican,

    Then point out the flaw in Sullum’s argument — as he pointed out flaws in the researcher’s argument — rather than just insinuating that he has a conflict of interest.

    (I’m not holding my breath)

  39. Juanita | April 16, 2008, 12:46pm | #

    “Is it too much to expect reporters to challenge drug warriors when they spout nonsense like this?”

    They (DEA) are the experts on drugs, who are we to disagree?

  40. “Juanita Wayback Machine | August 6, 2008, 9:41pm
    They (DEA) are the experts on drugs, who are we to disagree?”

    Yesssss … drink the Kool-Aid.

  41. “Juanita | March 19, 2007, 11:49am | #

    Because those things are immoral, they need to be banned, and those doing those things must be punished. If Jesus was alive today he would support the war on drugs, porn and gambling because those things are immoral and everone what does those things needs to get SEVERE punishment, including perhaps life in prison, solitary confinement, torture and perhaps the death penalth. If Jesus was alive today he would support torture and death for those who blasphemy the lord by participating in porn, drugs or gambling, which is whay they must be illegal. Anthing that protects the kids and helps the cops keep us all off of porn, drugs or gambling is inherintly a good thing, I’m all for it. Let’s face it the risk of being killed by an Iraqui terrorist is low, porn, drugs or gambling is the biggest risk to our children these days. If it save one life from the Devil then I’m all for it.”

  42. I’ve only known one woman named Juanita, and she was probably about 350 lbs and reeked like a cat urine factory. She used to keep invoices for the store in these manilla folders, and one time I noticed that one of the folders had a cat turd stuck to it. She must have noticed too, because a couple of days later the turd had been peeled off, but you could tell it was the same folder because there was a brown turd-shaped stain in the same place.

    Just sayin’.

  43. I would like to point out that the progressives appear to have two seemingly opposing viewpoints in this issue. On the one hand, they are constantly bitching about the “obesity epidemic” and “the children” and “evil corporashuns”. On the other hand, you hear all this shit about fat chicks are beautiful, body image is superfluous, and crap like that which often comes from the feminist wacks, among others.

    These are not a contradiction. This just gives them influence: “There is nothing wrong with YOU, you need our help to get back at teh corporashuns”

  44. Obesity is a serious health issue. As is anorexia. It doesn’t mean that individuals need anyone other than themselves to get involved in solving it. Average people, I suppose, just don’t exist because they don’t merit funding.

  45. Wow, I remember the big hubbub in the 90’s about the “heroin chic,” skinny look. Too skinny then, too fat now…maybe we should rally around a War on Obesity! Seriously, though, it’s up to the individual to take care of his/her own weight.

  46. Whatever the stats may imply… all who eat reasonably and exercise regularly will not be overweight.

    For whatever that’s worth.

  47. @ Juanita August 6, 2008, 9:55pm

    Actually Juanita … I know the Bible better than most Christians and obviously better than you.

    Jesus actually stopped the stoning of a prostitute by a mob.
    “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

    So no, in fact, if his associations in the New Testament hold, he’d probably be hanging out with the drug addicts and the Porn producers of the modern world.

    Where did Jesus ever support torture? Hmmm? Last time I checked it was “‘Vengeance is mine.’ Sayeth the Lord.” Not destroy any who disagree or live differently than you! What the hell lady?

    If it “saves” one life it’s all worth it? Funny how all you fuckwit moralists deny cost/benefit as an analysis tool for government action.

    Please, Go READ your holy text instead of beating people over the head with it.

  48. By itself, a societal problem is not a sufficient reason for state intervention.

  49. I’d be really interested to see the BMI ratings for all the doctors and researchers and other people pushing this shit. I’d guarantee that a shitload of them would come out as “overweight”.

  50. When I was dating a hot, blonde 5′ 5″ 100-and-change chick about 12 years ago, the ladies in the office were trying to say that she was “anorexic” from the description.

    She only looked underweight when she was wearing too many clothes or loose fitting stuff. Otherwise, yummy was the word of the day.

  51. jon,

    Isnt that hook painful?

  52. Yo mama’s so fat, she has smaller fat women orbiting her.

  53. Joshua Holmes – “Having said that, it’s definitely true that a lot of people are fat. I would be curious to see the mortality break-down of the ‘overweight’ BMI category by bodyfat percentage. Obviously, my 26 BMI with ~10% bodyfat is very different from a 26 BMI with ~25% bodyfat (which is entirely possible).”

    This has been discussed before here and it’s always been a pet peeve of mine. Anyone who is very muscular will automatically have a horrible BMI, especially if they’re not tall. There was even an AP article about the bad BMIs of people like Tom Cruise.

    Body fat percentage is much more accurate, but it’s a little more difficult to measure and more importantly would cause the obesity epidemic alarmists to lose credibility.

  54. OBL,

    The current Army standards (infected by this nonsense) place the screening weight of 6′ 3″ 40 year and older males at 220 Lbs. Those of us who weigh more than that have to endure the “tape test” version of BMI guesstimation and need to be under 20% (I think, might be 18%) in order to be promoted and attend career development training.

  55. Wait, I think I misused BMI up there. The percentages go with body fat.

  56. Methinks that Jon needs to develop his sense of humor.

  57. @robc August 7, 2008, 9:18am

    What hook? Did I miss and internet meme?

    @Marcvs August 7, 2008, 10:51am

    What is Juanita a regular around here? If so, There needs to be like a “tongue-in-cheek” tag or something. :\

  58. Ah, poor Jon. Seduced by the siren Juanita.

    Right into the rocks.

  59. Oh wonderful .. HTML coding is active … forgot about that.

    So pickin’ on the new kid eh?

  60. By itself, a societal problem is not a sufficient reason for state intervention.

    Yet often state intervention is a sufficient reason for societal problems.

  61. Occam’s toothbrush | August 6, 2008, 9:36pm | #
    Neu Mejican,

    Then point out the flaw in Sullum’s argument — as he pointed out flaws in the researcher’s argument — rather than just insinuating that he has a conflict of interest.

    (I’m not holding my breath)

    Nothing wrong with his critique of this particular study…but I find it funny that he, a reporter working for an agenda driven magazine, is making a point to point out the potential agenda behind someone else’s work.

    His post is not a critique of the proposition that obesity may be an important public health issue. He has cherry picked a study, pointed out some flaws, then accused the researchers of bias to discredit the idea that obesity might be a public health concern.

    The standard JS MO…claim that the problem someone else sees is not really a problem…thinking that this means there is no need for government-based solution.

    But if you really want to make the libertarian case, there is no need to deny the existence of the problem. Just make the case that there are non-governmental solutions, or that government involvement will make things worse.

    By the way, I didn’t insinuate that JS has a conflict of interest. I pointed it out explicitly.

  62. “The lamest thing is that obesity needs its own fucking journal. I’m sure its just full of credibility.”

    I’m not sure whether I prefer the people who just outright claim obesity isn’t a medical problem at all, or the people who claim that the fact Arnie has a high BMI means that their sitting on the couch popping Cheetos and Bawls all day is a healthy lifestyle choice.

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