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June 08, 2004

Good News/Bad News For Oliver Willis

An obesity researcher says that conventional wisdom about overweight is wrong, which is always a great way to start a conversation about anything. Conventional wisdom is usually jackass wisdom. Give me contrarian wisdom.

He makes two points:

First, ignore all the liberal obesity nannies, who, like any other sort of liberal, make statements in order to 1) create panic 2) get government funding 3) exert undeserved influence over other peoples' lives and 4) demonstrate that they are better than you. (Anyone who presumes to be a critic on any issue also presumes to be superior to the thing being critiqued.)

Okay, he didn't say that. But he did say we are not in the midst of an "obesity epidemic":

The obesity arena "is so political, so rife with misinformation and disinformation," he said.

Dr. Friedman points to careful statistical analyses of the changes in Americans' body weights from 1991 to today by Dr. Katherine Flegal of the National Center for Health Statistics. At the lower end of the weight distribution, nothing has changed, not even by a few pounds. As you move up the scale, a few additional pounds start to show up, but even at midrange, people today are just 6 or 7 pounds heavier than they were in 1991. Only with the massively obese, the very top of the distribution, is there a substantial increase in weight, about 25 to 30 pounds, Dr. Flegal reported.

As a result, the curve of body weight has been pulled slightly to the right, with more people shifting up a few pounds to cross the line that experts use to divide normal from obese. In 1991, 23 percent of Americans fell into the obese category; now 31 percent do, a more than 30 percent increase. But the average weight of the population has increased by just 7 to 10 pounds since 1991.

Dr. Friedman gave an analogy: "Imagine the average I.Q. was 100 and that 5 percent of the population had an I.Q. of 140 or greater and were considered to be geniuses. Now let's say that education improves and the average I.Q. increases to 107 and 10 percent of the population has an I.Q. of above 140.

"You could present the data in two ways," he said. "You could say that the average I.Q. is up seven points or you could say that because of improved education the number of geniuses has doubled."

He added, "The whole obesity debate is equivalent to drawing conclusions about national education programs by saying that the number of geniuses has doubled."

The bad news for O-Flub is that he thinks that weight is as strictly genetically-coded as height, and that we can no more impact our bodily weight to a significant extent than we can gain three inches.


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posted by Ace at 01:49 PM

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