On the 1% increase of obese and overweight in the US

If you haven’t yet seen the article from Reuters: More than 70 million US adults obese, US agency says

And here’s a link to the actual CDC report

Hey look, the obesity level in the US is remaining steady!

Oh wait, the article didn’t say that? The carefully timed flood of press releases on a ‘report’ from the CDC, an agency already over-reporting the levels of ‘overweight and obesity’ as well as stocking their site with all sorts of scare-graphs and claims of an ‘epidemic’ (and not to mention the same folks that claimed 400,000 deaths per/year were ‘attributable’ to obesity when it was found later that the figure was closer to 30,000 deaths/year) seemed to say:

WE’RE IN AN EPIDEMIC FATTIES OMG OMG CHILDREN WILL DIE ETC!

Or, what the CDC actually said:

Over the past decade, obesity has become recognized as a national health threat and a major public health challenge. In 2007–2008, based on measured weights and heights (1), approximately 72.5 million adults in the United States were obese (CDC, unpublished data, 2010). Obese adults are at increased risk for many serious health conditions, including coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and premature death (2,3). Adult obesity also is associated with reduced quality of life, social stigmatization, and discrimination (2,3). From 1987 to 2001, diseases associated with obesity accounted for 27% of the increases in U.S. medical costs (4). For 2006, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at as much as $147 billion (2008 dollars); among all payers, obese persons had estimated medical costs that were $1,429 higher than persons of normal weight (5). In 2001, the Surgeon General called for strong public health action to prevent and decrease overweight and obesity (3). [EMPHASIS MINE]

A few things:

  1. Correlation doesn’t equal causation. The public health dollars scare tactic was calculated by taking the sum of ALL diseases ‘correlated with’ obesity and adding them together. That means there was a crapload of thin people with heart diseases, diabetes type II, certain cancers, and who suffered strokes that have been lumped in with all the fatties to make that percentage look as high as possible. Misleading.
  2. I don’t see a margin of error stated in the report, except a very narrow confidence interval of 0.7 – 1.4 percent. Really that — that — is what’s getting shouted from the rooftops of every science news agency and crappy local evening news station in the country? Really?
  3. Again, it bears repeating: A 1% increase over two years does not an epidemic make. Nor are we currently in an epidemic by any reasonable definition of the term. The fact that the CDC is bearing down on us with these imprecise scare-words means this is about politics and keeping themselves in the green, NOT about the actual fucking health of Americans. Anyone who hasn’t read Greg Bear’s brilliant Darwin’s Radio, please do.
  4. How is obesity a major public health threat again and, if this is true, how in the world has it just ‘become’ so, given that obesity rates have been leveling off for the last few years (isn’t it something like 5 or 6 years now, since 2004)? I smell a press release.

Methinks the CDC is working to ramp up anti-obesity fervor for something. To garner more support for the “Let’s Move” anti-obese kids program? To garner more support for some kind of new, wider initiative (since my guess is that “Let’s Move” hasn’t been generating any real results, surprise surprise)?

And then there was this lovely gem from the NY Times busting open the current HHS anti-obesity funds and focus: Antismoking Efforts Lose Ground to Obesity Fight

Shortly after the first lady kicked off the “Let’s Move” program, the administration awarded more funds to fight obesity than tobacco through two big new money sources for preventive health. The funds, totaling $1.15 billion, came from economic stimulus and health care reform legislation. They still provided more than $200 million for tobacco-use prevention, but much more to grapple with obesity.

Scary. Nice that part of the economic ‘stimulus’ package was funds to stimulate hate! Oh, dearie. It’s so funny I forgot to laugh.

Scarier still: apparently the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is involved. For extensive analyses of some of their anti-obesity initiatives, check out this link.

What do you think of all of this?

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7 comments on “On the 1% increase of obese and overweight in the US

  1. Snuffycup says:

    Ugh, this explains why “Obesity” was #3 on the list of “Trends” today on Yahoo. Fuck….just fucking fucking fuck. I’m so goddamn tired of this shit and it gets really hard some days not to just get bogged down in it and think, “What’s the point of even living anymore? Things are only going to get much, much worse before they ever get better and it’s already so incredibly bad!”

    Where’s our ray of shining hope?! Where’s our beacon of light?! When does it get *better* for us?!

  2. Public health, how I loathe thee.

    It’s a shame too. Public health, i.e. clean drinking water and vaccinations, used to be a good thing.

    Another shame is that so many other important *and real* health issues are getting short shrift because of it. I remember once I used to love reading articles on KidsHealth.org because it had information about diseases common and rare, behavioral health and life issues, research, etc. It was a great resource.

    Now, the focus is almost exclusively on diet, exercise, and obesty. If it’s not, they try desperately to work it in there somewhere. I could be reading about scoliosis, and there will be a paragraph devoted to how overweight cases scoliosis (it does not.)

    I’m sick of being targeted, and I’m sick of real health or social concerns being given the shaft over a moral panic.

    Disgusted doesn’t begin to describe how I feel right now.

  3. meowser says:

    Actually, you know what all this reminds me of?

    The Great Day Care/Single Woman/Working Mommy Scare of the 1980s.

    It’s pretty well documented in Susan Faludi’s Backlash, but the abstract is roughly this: The popular media which is busy whipping people into a frenzy over fat was doing likewise with so-called “nontraditional women” 25 years ago. If you want a career, you can forget about a husband! You’ll be alone forever! You’re more likely to be killed by a terrorist than get married after age 40! If you put your children in day care, they will become bank-robbing dope fiends! You say you need the money? Pah! You’ll see how much money you have after your kids need to be BAILED OUT OF JAIL because you were too busy with your selfish career to nurture them! Your only hope is to drop out of college, learn to bat your eyes and giggle so a breadwinning man will want you and you can stay home. Stay home, women! Stay home! FOR THE GOOD OF HUMANITY, STAAAAY HOOOOOME!

    Funny, but we’re not seeing a whole lot of those stories anymore. You know why? Well, for starters, anymore the job market such crap that it’s assumed that most mothers DO need the money, even if their partners work, and their partners are more likely than ever to be unemployed. But mostly because that generation of bank-robbing dope fiends just never happened. That’s what it will take with Obesity Panic. The only way 33% of the under-20 population is going to wind up with type 2 diabetes is if they redefine t2d so far down that it would be hard not to be diagnosed with it, and 25 years from now, when all those children’s pancreases haven’t blown up on schedule, and people keep living longer and longer, the panic-mongers are going to look awfully silly.

  4. Snuffycup says:

    Ok Meowser, I feel better now, not so doomed. Thanks for your words of wisdom!

  5. vesta44 says:

    What meowser said is exactly what this “epidemic” is all about – redefining the level at which one is diagnosed with a disease that is correlated to being “obese”. Pharmaceutical companies aren’t happy with the obscene profits they’re already making, so get those thresholds lowered so more people can be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, etc and be put on prescription medications at younger and younger ages. The problem with that is that it’s not only fat people who are going to be caught in those lower thresholds, quite a few average/thin people are going to get hit by them – hell, I’m DEATHFATZ and I’m not hit by any of them, yet, and I pity the doctor who tries to tell me that I’m diabetic because my fasting blood sugar isn’t at whatever lowered number they come up with, when I know what it should be, same for hypertension and cholesterol. I’ll be one non-compliant patient if they try pulling that bullshit on me.
    As for the CDC’s numbers, is that 72.5 million just the obese people, no “overweight” ones included in that? Because that seems like a rather low estimate to me. I thought they were hyping how almost 2/3 of the country was “overweight”/”obese”, 72.5 million is less than 25% of the country, which doesn’t seem like that big a deal to me and certainly isn’t an epidemic.

  6. bigliberty says:

    Thanks for the great comments so far, everyone! Meowser, I do hope you’re right (and you are often very prescient). It’s nice to think that time will make this moral panic fizzle. By the way, the line:

    The only way 33% of the under-20 population is going to wind up with type 2 diabetes is if they redefine t2d so far down that it would be hard not to be diagnosed with it, and 25 years from now, when all those children’s pancreases haven’t blown up on schedule, and people keep living longer and longer, the panic-mongers are going to look awfully silly.

    is awesome.

  7. arkveveen says:

    Fantastic bit of reading, this definitely calms me and affords me more ‘sanity watchers’ points! Thank you for being awesome, Big Liberty!

    At least you don’t rant like I do, my blog hasn’t done anything to help size acceptance… probablly because I am a fat admirer and a feedee, there’s no place for me in size acceptance. :(

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