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Obesity 'epidemic': Who are you calling fat? - Independent Online Edition > Health
Obesity 'epidemic': Who are you calling fat?
We're told there's an obesity 'epidemic'. Yet there's not a shred of evidence, says Professor Patrick Basham – and this crusade is harming our children

...The claim that half of the British population will be clinically obese in 25 years assumes, without any empirical foundation, that every overweight child will become an overweight adult and that every overweight adult will progress to obesity.

It is true that Body Mass Index (a figure consisting of height squared divided by weight squared) statistics show a significant increase in overweight adults over the past decade. But this is an extraordinary case of moving the methodological goalposts: in 1997, the BMI classification of being overweight was changed from 27 to 25. At a stroke, millions of people previously classed as normal suddenly became overweight, with no good reason to explain the change. This obscures the fact that the average adult weighs only a pound or two more than those of a generation ago. The increase in obesity applies only to the morbidly obese (with a BMI greater than 40), who make up less than 5 per cent of the obese.

Further, there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that childhood obesity is on the increase, let alone accelerating. The Department of Health's own survey, published in December 2004, shows that for all children aged two to 15 there was actually a slight decline in obesity prevalence from 2004-2005. And in children aged 11-15, there was a 17.5 per cent decline. So, it is difficult to see from the Government's own data just where this talk of an obesity "epidemic" is coming from.

What's more, the latest UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2000) found that caloric intake in both boys and girls aged four to 18 declined since the previous survey in 1983. There is similar data in the States: a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2004 found no statistically significant increase in the prevalence of overweight or obese children between 1999 and 2002.

Behind the medical profession's goal of identifying overweight people is the claim that it is unhealthy to be above normal weight. I am no obesity apologist: morbidly obese people are so fat that they are putting their lives at risk. But the claim that being overweight or modestly obese is associated with an increased risk of premature death has been discredited by a series of studies. For example, the 2004 US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study claimed that there were nearly 400,000 annual deaths attributable to diet and physical inactivity. Yet this was discredited the following year by a study from researchers at the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, which put the figure of annual deaths from overweight and obesity at just 25,814....

Thanks to Budderies for braving the Indy to note this article.


Typical Indescribablypisspoor innumeracy. BMI has units of kg/m^2, not m^2/kg^2 as the above farrago of nonsense implies (I'd have a BMI of ~0.0004 if it were the latter). It's a thoroughly bogus catch-all measure anyway, and not one that any nutritionist with a shred of professional integrity uses in any serious sense. I have great difficulty, as an erstwhile physicist, coming to grips with the idea of kilograms per meter squared as a useful measurement, except perhaps by analogy to pressure. It sets my trusty bullshitometer a-clangin'.

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