UNC nutrition researchers dispute claims that obesity problem is exaggerated

Two University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers disagree with a prominent Colorado attorney's contention that talk of a national and global epidemic of obesity is exaggerated.

Writing in the February 2006 issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology, University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos says that the "current rhetoric about an obesity-driven health crisis is being driven more by cultural and political factors than by any threat increasing body weight may pose to public health."

UNC-Chapel Hill nutrition researchers Drs. June Stevens and Barry Popkin think that while he makes a few reasonable points, mainly he is just plain wrong.

Campos and colleagues present and discuss four "claims" that they consider untrue. Those claims are that:

  • Almost all countries are experiencing an obesity epidemic.
  • Mortality rates increase with increasing degrees of overweight as measured by body mass index.
  • The data linking overweight and obesity to adverse health outcomes are well established and incontrovertible.
  • Significant long-term weight loss is a practical goal and will improve health.
"So what if the so-called 'obesity epidemic' is largely an illusion?" Campos wrote.

"What if higher than average weight turns out to have neither much medical nor moral significance?

"The answers to these questions, all of which we believe are strongly suggested by the epidemiological literature, go far beyond the issues of body mass and health," he said. "The current scientific evidence should prompt health professionals and policy-makers to consider whether it makes sense to treat body weight as a barometer of public health. It should also make us pause to consider how propagating the idea of an 'obesity epidemic' furthers the political and economic interests of certain groups, while doing immense damage to those whom it blames and stigmatizes."

Stevens and Po

Contact: Deb Saine
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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