Are We Becoming More Honest About Our Weight?


Here are two headlines that ran half a year apart in The New York Times:

Obesity Rates Hit Plateau in U.S., Data Suggest (January 14, 2010)

Obesity Rates Keep Rising, Troubling Health Officials (August 3, 2010)

Did things really turn around that quickly? Probably not. The first story, which I noted here and here, was based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which uses actual measurements of weight and height. As of 2008, the NHANES numbers indicated that obesity rates had been essentially unchanged for at least five years among men and for nearly 10 years among women and children. By contrast, data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), the basis for the second story, show obesity continuing to rise during the same period.

Unlike NHANES, the BRFSS relies on self-reported weights and heights. As the Times notes, these data, for understandable reasons, tend to understate the percentage of Americans who have body mass indexes of 30 or more (the official cutoff for obesity). As the Times does not note, the shrinking gap between the NHANES and BRFSS numbers suggests that Americans are becoming increasingly precise and/or candid about such matters. "The data show a 1.1 percentage point increase—an additional 2.4 million people—in the self-reported prevalence of obesity between 2007 and 2009 among adults aged 18 and over," the CDC reports. "The number of states with an obesity prevalence of 30 percent or more has tripled in two years to nine states in 2009." But unless the next set of NHANES data (which, again, are based on actual measurements rather than self-reports) indicates the the BMI plateau was just a brief rest during a continuing climb, the recent upward trend in the BRFSS data will prove to be illusory.

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  1. Obesity Rates Keep Rising, Troubling Health Officials.

    Health Official: But I don’t understand… We’ve been following the reference book for some time; why is this not working?

    Me: Maybe because humans are not automatons, you pretentious bastard.

  2. Are We Becoming More Honest About Our Weight?

    I pretend not to notice . . . I’m married, you know.

  3. I finally made a mashed potato pizza this weekend (to critical acclaim) with bacon, hard salami and three cheeses, including Gorgonzola. I seem to have gained a couple of pounds. Curse you, Big Potato!

    1. I would think you’d quickly burn it off.

      1. I’ll do it tonight by flipping between O’Reilly and Olbermann. The hand gestures and screaming alone should burn at least 2000 calories.

      2. I got it.

  4. Speaking of the government keeping statistics on things that are none of their business, did anyone catch the Judge in Fox News last night? The show was called something like The Takeover of Congress.

    Anyway, he invited the token liberal emptyheads for a pow-wow, which I found interesting since it is impossible to be inherently unprincipled and try to debate the judge at the same time. He asked one of the women: If Congress determined that the sun causes skin cancer, can Congress make us all buy and wear hats and if so, what limits would government have?

    Obviously, the liberal emptyhead dodged the question completely by flying off a tangent and saying that we need healthcare . . . uhhhh….

    1. Anyway, he [Andrew Napolitano] invited the token liberal emptyheads for a pow-wow.

      It’s like arguing with children or retards. Or adding crackpot commentary to a blog. Sure, it feels good, but what does it accomplish?

      I said, war, huh!
      Good God, y’all.
      What is it good for?
      Absolutely nothing!
      Say it again.

    2. Of course data collection is in the purview of bureaucrats.

      You see, as a whore is wrong to badmouth her pimp, to disobey her pimp, so too is it wrong for the welfare-seeking citizen to not comply with government bureaucrats.

      As long as there is free-to-them welfare medicine, welfare collectees must comply with the wishes of their pimp masters.

      Bureaucrats should want to know all they can to mitigate having to render medicine.

  5. Jacob, You do great work. But this is one of those cases where you should pretty much ignore the data and just use your own eyes and common sense. The number of grotesquely obese adults and children has been rising in my adult lifetime (63), without the slightest doubt. It probably has leveled off, because there has been so much written and broadcast about obesity, and people probably are beginning to change behaviors.

    What I have no doubt about is that a huge portion of American health care costs come from the results of fatness. There is nothing un-libertarian about constantly warning people about that. I am opposed to statist restrictions on what people can consume–kill yourself by living to eat instead of eating to live, if you so desire. But I have no problem with the state issuing some modest warnings against over-eating. I also wish restaurants would police themselves, and stop over-portioning, damn it!!!

    1. Be careful what you wish for. I was in Dahlonega, Georgia while on vacation and ate at a surprisingly good Italian restaurant. I ordered the spinach and walnut raviolis–deee-licious. But I only got nine of them for my meal. Wrong!

  6. Want to see some bizarre attitudes toward weight? Check out the W4M ads on Craigslist. You’ll see women describe themselves as “needing to lose a few pounds,” and then say they’re 5′ 4″ and weigh 185 pounds. Honey, if you’re eight inches shorter than I am and outweigh me, that’s more than “a few.”

    1. So they are wider than they are tall?

  7. I’ll say it now. There will be a ‘fat pride parade’ in the near future.

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