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A Comparison of Obesity Statistics

It is common knowledge that many Americans are overweight, but is obesity really an

epidemic? Researchers at CDC (Center for Disease Control) warn that obesity is causing a

massive and worsening health crisis. However, some critics allege that many statistics on obesity

are produced by doctors and scientists funded by the weight loss industry, and their definition of

obesity and overweight are arbitrary at best.

The Get America Fit Foundation has gathered a respectable amount of statistics and charts to

illustrate the severity of obesity in America. On their website, they state “Eight out of 10 over

25's Overweight”, without defining “overweight” or a time frame. A chart of obesity trends from

1991 to 2003 shows more adults have become obese (BMI ≥ 30) since 1991. They emphasize the

diseases associated with obesity, such as high blood pressure, Type II diabetes and heart disease,

by listing the medical cost of each of the diseases. To further prove their point, a table is included

showing how the rising obesity rates are positively related to an increasing Medicare and

Medicaid obesity attributable expenditures in the state-level from 1991 to 2000. In addition,

there are three maps showing that regions with more obese adults also have more adults with

diabetes. They also include obesity statistics for low-income and preschool-aged children. They

claim that the obesity prevalence among these children has been steadily increasing from 2003 to

2008, according to CDC. Overall, they are simply citing statistics from other sources without any

analysis. Based on the data they provided on their website, it might be too quick to conclude that

the obesity rates have reached epidemic proportions.

In June 2005, W. Wayt Gibbs, a senior writer, wrote “Obesity: An Overblown Epidemic?” for

Scientific American challenging the view that obesity is an epidemic. He believes a handful of
scientists and doctors are unnecessarily exaggerating the damage from obesity because they are

paid to do so. He cites scholars at different universities that medical authorities and government

are misleading the public about the health effects of epidemic overweight and obesity. One

reason for the inaccuracy of the obesity statistics is that “genetic differences account for 50 to 80

percent of the variation in fatness within a population,” Gibbs wrote. The CDC also gives an

unattainable BMI range which causes people to believe obesity is highly prevalent. Gibbs feels a

high BMI has become a “cause” of obesity while it is simply a marker. A thorough examination

of three national surveys reveals that the increase in mortality rate due to obesity is “statistically

insignificant,” once the effects of age, race, sex, smoking and alcohol consumption are

subtracted. Moreover, “dubious assumptions, statistical errors and outdated measurements” also

contribute to inaccuracy. For example, a BMI of 30 or more is usually assumed for an obese

American, but then it is compared to an ideal BMI of 24, which causes no excess deaths, and

thus researchers conclude the death rates resulting from obesity is statistically significant. Gibbs

believes that medical researchers portray obesity as an epidemic because it “allows them to get

more research grants,” and weight-loss companies and pharmaceutical industry use it to justify

their services and new drugs.

In addition, Gibbs says obesity does not necessarily cause diabetes. Although Type II

diabetes seems to be positively related to obesity, Gibbs found out that the diabetes test used by

the CDC “may be wildly unreliable.” According to CDC’s standard, anyone who has just one

positive test for high blood sugar is considered having “undiagnosed diabetes” and therefore is a

diabetic. Gibbs included a charts showing that obesity is not directly related to several serious

diseases as CDC claims.

In comparison to The Get America Fit Foundation’s website, Gibbs’ article is more

believable because it contains more elaborate analyses explaining the fallacy of many obesity

statistics. While it cannot be denied that the economic costs attributable to obesity have increased

for the last two decades, the obesity rate has more or less been inflated by the health authorities.