What is up with these obesity statistics? Last March, Fox News ran this:
Group Challenges CDC's Obesity Claims
..."America is now suffering from an epidemic of obesity myths much more than an epidemic of obesity," said CCF senior analyst Dan Mindus.
Mindus authored a report that attempts to shatter "obesity myths" and takes direct aim at what Mindus says is the principal culprit for obesity hysteria in America — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (search).
Last year, the CDC publicized a study that said 400,000 deaths annually can be attributed to obesity
"The CDC has misled the American public, has compared obesity to the black death, has told us that obesity is going to kill more people than tobacco," Mindus said. "They're completely wrong. They know they're completely wrong and yet they're trying to sweep under the rug all the evidence to support that."
But Fox also provided a "fair and balanced" counterpoint:
The Center for Consumer Freedom also has its skeptics. The group gets most of its funding from some of the biggest names in food, including fast-food chain restaurants and food manufacturers.
One medical director who treats overweight people full-time as director of George Washington University's weight management program said quibbling about the numbers blurs the true story.
"Let's assume that it's not 65 percent, let's assume that it's 50 percent. Let's assume that it's 40 percent. It's still a lot of people," said Dr. Arthur Frank. "I think [the consumer group is] being petty and I think they're being silly."
"Silly"? Well, who looks silly now? This latest CDC study, as described in the Times, is a shocker:
People who are overweight but not obese have a lower risk of death than those of normal weight, federal researchers are reporting today.
The researchers - statisticians and epidemiologists from the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - also found that increased risk of death from obesity was seen for the most part in the extremely obese, a group constituting only 8 percent of Americans.
...The new study comes just 13 months after different researchers from the disease control centers published a paper warning that obesity and overweight were causing an extra 400,000 deaths a year and were poised to overtake smoking as the nation's leading preventable cause of premature death.
That conclusion caused an uproar, and scientists, particularly those who examine the consequences of smoking, questioned the study's methods. In January, the agency's researchers corrected calculation errors and published a revised estimate of 365,000 deaths.
Now the new study says that obesity and extreme obesity are causing about 112,000 extra deaths but that overweight is preventing about 86,000, leaving a net toll of some 26,000 deaths in all three categories combined, compared with the 34.000 extra deaths found in those who are underweight.
Dr. Donna Stroup, director of the Coordinating Center for Health Promotion at the C.D.C., noted that the previous study had used different data and different methods of analysis.
"Counting deaths is not an exact science," Dr. Stroup said.
"Not an exact science". That, I believe.
Now, these doctors know more about this than I, and presumably have given it more thought. However, two points strike me:
(1) the Body Mass Index is based purely on height and weight, with no adjustments for age, gender, or physical activity. This leads to odd results, such as the news that First Fitness Fanatic George Bush (6 ft, 190 lbs.) is overweight, or that Alex Rodriguex is nearly obese.
(2) Correlation is not causation: Physical fitness seems to be a much better predictor of health than a simple overweight/underweight calculation, because it is possible to be fit and fat, or sedentary and skinny. However, "overweight" and "sedentary" tend to be correlated, which may be confounding the stats.
Dr. Williamson, one of the authors of this study, would also like to thank you for not smoking.