Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

The anti-obesity fuss: I — Where is the common sense?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2014/09/02

There’s an “epidemic” of “obesity”, so we’re told.

Already by 1998, “An estimated 97 million adults in the United States are overweight or obese, a condition that substantially raises their risk of morbidity from hypertension, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, and endometrial, breast, prostate, and colon cancers. Higher body weights are also associated with increases in all-cause mortality. Obese individuals may also suffer from social stigmatization and discrimination. As a major contributor to preventive death in the United States today, overweight and obesity pose a major public health challenge” [1].

No ifs, ands, or buts.

Such official anti-obesity propaganda illustrates the flaws and failings of contemporary medical practices: purportedly “scientific” assertions as valid as the Emperor’s New Clothes; official Reports that do nothing to clarify and that make little if any sense; a drug industry that peddles dangerous substances by exploiting the lack of sensible regulation and the lack of informed media coverage.

That the proclaimed “obesity epidemic” is a relatively recent phenomenon shows that it is not caused by genetics or heredity. A very small proportion of humans are born with genetically determined metabolisms that produce dangerous-to-health obesity (“endogenous obesity”) virtually independent of lifestyle including diet. The circumstances of these individuals (or families) and the medical care appropriate for them have nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of us whose weight is determined entirely by lifestyle, primarily diet.
In other words, there is no epidemic of “obesity”: There is only an epidemic of unhealthy eating, mainly over-eating but also eating and drinking foolishly, for instance sugar-infused “soft” drinks at 100-200 Calories per dose.

The solution is obvious and simple, as my mother’s doctor told her decades ago:


Public policy should be to persuade people to eat sensibly, and to persuade food processors to place a premium on health — or failing that, to regulate them into doing so, possibly with such help as heavy taxes levied on clearly unhealthy products.

Putting that into practice is not so simple a matter, of course, but sustained effort could have the desired effect: after all, the campaign against tobacco has been very effective.
Only a few decades ago, smoking was a socially welcomed habit, it was good manners to offer cigarettes to whoever one was with, and advertisements cited the approval of the medical profession:  “More doctors smoke Camels”; savor those old ads by Googling “Images” for “Doctors recommend Camels”.
It seems unlikely that addiction to unhealthy over-eating could be harder to overcome than the addiction to tobacco, which is a double whammy of physical and psychological addictions.

Persuasion toward healthy eating ought to be helped by the fact that there is a very simple, easy, and effective way to diet:
Don’t change what you eat, but begin every meal by removing one quarter (say) of what you had been used to eating. (It is your choice whether to throw it away or to keep it as “left-overs” or in take-home “doggy bags”). Your caloric intake is thereby cut by 25%, which easily meets the typically suggested goal of 500 to 1000 Calories. A useful corollary is to use smaller plates: a heaped but small plate gives no impression of deprivation, whereas the same amount of food spread thinly on a large plate looks skimpy. The enormous psychological barrier to drastically changing what you eat, which all the elaborately designed special diets demand, is avoided by this simple procedure.

A further, slightly more difficult but far from impossible corollary is to eat slowly, which brings a feeling of adequacy with a smaller total amount of food than when it is gobbled rapidly.

Such a “regimen” also avoids the problem that typically plagues all the special diets and officially recommended procedures: the almost universal regaining of weight after the 6 months or so of laboriously controlled special diet. As one gets used to eating less and slowly, stomach and appetite adjust and a new habit is formed.

Instead of obvious and straightforward solutions, however, there has grown up a whole industry generating a variety of diets, official Reports purporting to bring sophisticated science into the issue, and worst of all, a government-pharmaceutical-academic-professional complex that peddles drugs.

[1] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in cooperation with The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, Clinical Guidelines on the Identification , Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults: The Evidence Report, Publication 98-4083, September 1998, National Institutes of Health


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