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Jewish World Review April 23, 2001 / 30 Nissan, 5761

Paul Campos

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Consumer Reports

Being fat is OK -- ACCORDING to the federal government, I'm fat. Excuse me: "overweight." That's because, even though I run 35 to 40 miles per week, and am in excellent overall health, my height of five feet, eight inches and weight of 165 pounds gives me a Body Mass Index figure that makes me overweight, according to the BMI charts.

The BMI is what the government uses when it tells Americans that 61 percent of us are overweight. Every adult who has a BMI of 25 or higher is in this group. Nearly half of the people in this category have a BMI of 30 or higher, and are thus considered clinically "obese." There's just one problem with these figures: They are based on a remarkably elaborate series of lies -- lies about fat, fitness and health that, not coincidentally, serve the interests of America's $50 billion per year diet industry.

Now "lie" is a harsh word. But it is the only word that accurately reflects the dishonesty of the propaganda war that the diet industry, with the eager cooperation of our government, is carrying out against the American people.

Lie No. 1: We know that fat people are less healthy than thin people because they are fat. Due to the effectiveness of the diet industry's propaganda, most people treat this assertion as being self-evidently true. In fact, there is no solid scientific basis for this claim.

As the editors of no less an authority than the New England Journal of Medicine have pointed out, "the data linking overweight and death are limited, fragmentary, and often ambiguous." The most basic axiom of the scientific method is that demonstrating a correlation between A and B isn't the same thing as proving that A causes B, or vice versa. Yet, as the editors emphasize, this fundamental rule of scientific inquiry is violated again and again when the subject is the supposed health risks of fat.

For example, we know that fat people are much more likely to be poor than thin people, and that being fat in America today makes a person fair game for the most brazen forms of discrimination. Both of these generalizations have long been true as regards African Americans - yet no rational person would suggest that poor health among black people is caused by their skin color, rather than by such factors as poverty and discrimination.

Lie No. 2: We know that fat people would be as healthy as thin people if they lost weight. In the words of the editors of the New England Journal: "We simply do not know whether a person who loses 20 pounds will acquire the same reduced risk as a person who started out 20 pounds lighter .. . some (studies have) even suggested that weight loss increases mortality."

Lie No. 3: Fat people can choose to be thinner. The failure rate for diets is estimated to be between 90 percent and 98 percent, depending on how failure is defined. Furthermore, it has been proven over and over again that any statistically significant group of dieters will end up weighing more, on average, than a comparable group that never began dieting. Dieting to avoid getting fat makes exactly as much sense as smoking to avoid getting lung cancer.

We don't know the answer to such basic questions as whether being fat causes health problems and whether losing weight is good or bad for you because, in order to answer such questions scientifically, studies would have to be done in which half the subjects would lose weight and keep it off. Here's the biggest irony of the diet racket: The reason no such studies exist is that there is no known way to accomplish this.

As things stand, the American diet industry is a $50 billion a year scam that provides its customers with totally ineffective cures for an imaginary disease. Bon appetit!

Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. Comment by clicking here.


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02/27/01: Can 673 law professors be hypocrites?
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02/14/01: The Napster thrill
02/08/01: War on drugs worse than drugs
01/31/01: Racial imbalance not always racist

© 2001, Paul Campos