Friday, July 02, 2004

obesity epidemic

The Salt Lake Tribune -- Skeptic says obesity epidemic fears are overstated
"It's one thing to talk about statistics and another to talk about what's happening to individuals," said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University in New York City. "Everyone notices that there are more overweight people now."

It's frightening that a university professor would use such sloppy reasoning. Everyone notices -- did they (every single person in the US) notice this before the barrage of media hysteria?

The article's skeptic, Jeffrey Friedman, an obesity researcher at Rockefeller University in New York City, does a nice job of explaining how the statistics could be interpreted in different ways. Brings to mind Mark Twain's categories of untruths: "Lies, damn lies, and statistics."

Another bit of information: " 1998, the Body Mass Index (BMI) was redefined to judge men and women by the same weight standard. This instantly created an additional 39 million fat Americans," (source:

During my last few years in the service, we switched from a straight height/weight chart to a body fat standard. This involved several measurements at different points on the body, and neat little formulas and charts, which together estimated an individual's body fat percentage. (The most accurate method for determining body fat percentage involves water immersion, not very practical for huge numbers of troops. But we accepted the results of that test, should someone want to pay for it, as overruling our grosser estimate.)

But I guess now the newest fad is body mass index. Have you looked at this thing? Ignore all the misleading text and just look at's a damned height/weight chart! Instead of providing the approved weight ranges for each height, each weight is individually listed and assigned a bmi value. Then you check that value (age and gender irrelevent, btw) to see if you're overweight or obese.

I've lost track over the decades of the number of health and nutrition pronouncements that are accepted as scientific gospel (and receive lots of funding) only to be forgotten when a newer one comes along. I don't think they know what they're doing. I have no faith in their intellectual or ethical rigor because they fell into the trap of grabbing media attention by hyping absolutes. I have to laugh...or at least try to...


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