Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Loaded Words
Written by: Beck

America is in the middle of an obesity epidemic. The CDC says so. The NIH says so. The FDA thinks so. The EU knows so. Such august institutions couldn't possibly be wrong, could they?

Or could it be that in the past twenty year, the broader public mindset has been captured by an anorexic media mindset which fails to realize that the correlations between obesity and health problems have far less to do with body weight than with a sedentary lifestyle? That's precisely what Paul Cambos argues in a recent interview with (registration required, or watch a relatively brief ad).
He says that we're willing to buy into the notion of a national fat emergency because the medical profession and the media feed us misleading information about the connections between weight and health risks such as hypertension, cancer and heart disease. Campos says that what the studies actually show -- before they have been garbled by an "anorexic" media -- is that improved health is possible with a moderate amount of increased physical activity, regardless of our weight. But that message gets lost in the fever-pitch of fad diets, ever-shrinking government definitions of what it means to be overweight, and cultural discrimination against people who fail to meet the unrealistic and unnecessary standards for slimness.
But then, he's a lawyer, so what could he possibly know about the subject?
Something which ought to cause tremendous skepticism but hasn't is when you hear there is an epidemic of obesity in the U.S. According to official government standards, you're overweight if your BMI [body mass index] is over 25, which is 64.5 percent of the population on the basis of available data. Then there are the people at Harvard Medical School who think everyone should have a BMI of under 22 when 80 percent of the population is at 22 or higher. So according to all of them, the large majority of the population weighs too much. But there should be suspicion about the claim that there is a strong causal link between heart disease, hypertension, cancer -- and weight. Because these diseases are less prevalent and less fatal than they were even recently. Cancer rates continue to fall. Americans are much healthier now and have a longer life expectancy than they ever had before.

Studies about the causal relationship between these diseases and obesity fail to take into account a host of other factors, including socioeconomic status, activity levels, fitness levels, dieting, weight cycling, and diet-drug use, which all have an impact. If you take those factors into account you see how weak the argument is that a certain level of BMI is in and of itself causing heart disease, hypertension or cancer.
Of course, it wouldn't be if it didn't contain at least a little leftist boilerplate.
Overconsumption in America is closely equated with class: The higher up you go the more you consume. The only area in which consumption is inversely related to class is caloric overconsumption. So the American elite project anxiety about the fact that they're massively overconsuming economically and materially through a disgust for fat, lower-class people.

America is just too big. We throw our weight around, our cars are too big, our shopping malls are too big, our houses are too big. Our anxiety about fat is our anxiety about our own bigness. But it's a projection that is so inappropriate when our cars weigh 700 pounds more than they did 15 years ago -- which is politically and economically and environmentally far more troubling than the fact that our bodies on average weigh eight pounds more than they used to 15 years ago.
Long story short, you'll be fine from a health perspective with a little extra padding so long as you still get off your ass several times a week and get some exercise. Of course, you'll still be unattractive, but then, you can't have everything in life, now can you?

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John Beck

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