[PHNUTR-L] UNC nutrition researchers dispute claims that obesity
problem is exaggerated
Kathrynne Holden, MS, RD
fivestar at nutritionucanlivewith.com
Wed Feb 1 06:47:35 PST 2006
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Public release date: 31-Jan-2006
Contact: Deb Saine
deborah_saine at unc.edu
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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
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
"So what if the so-called 'obesity epidemic' is largely an illusion?"
"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
Stevens and Popkin, both nutrition professors at UNC-Chapel Hill, beg to
"There is very strong evidence to indicate that...the incidence of
obesity is increasing in just about all of the countries in which we
have information," Stevens wrote. "... Definitions of 'epidemic' are not
confined to infectious diseases but rather rest on a health phenomenon
'clearly in excess of normal expectancy.'"
She and most other health professionals see the upward shift in weight
of most people of between about 6.5 pounds and 11 pounds as significant
and say that it would be healthier if populations as a whole moved in
the direction of preventing weight gain.
"Results differ depending on the population studied and the methods
used, but the vast majority of studies show...an association between
body mass index and mortality," Stevens said. "...Many studies in
experimental animals have shown that those kept slender live longer than
heavier animals. Recently, a study...examined the question of weight
loss and mortality in an animal model. They showed that rats that were
kept lean throughout their lives had the lowest mortality, and rats
maintained at an obese weight had highest mortality."
Animals that were obese and then made to lose weight had mortality
comparable to the consistently lean rats, she said. Mortality among rats
that lost weight was slightly higher but significantly lower than the
consistently obese animals.
While no one would say that significant weight loss is an easy goal,
that does not make it impractical, Stevens wrote. "...There is ample
evidence to support that adoption of a lifestyle that reduces excess
weight by means of a healthy diet and increased physical activity will
Two keys points to keep in mind, she said, were that the global
population is getting heavier and that being obese causes serious health
"...Obesity remains an exceptionally important preventable cause of
disease and death," Stevens wrote. "Finally, after many years of
inattention the scientific community has turned its considerable
resources to obesity. The vast majority of researchers and practitioners
champion this move, not because it will increase their personal fortune
but because it offers the opportunity to make important improvements in
Popkin and Dr. Soowon Kim, a fellow in the University of California at
San Francisco's family and community medicine department, conducted a
wide-ranging review of the scientific literature. They wrote that any
such review "produces overwhelming evidence of the global obesity
pandemic and the strong adverse consequences of obesity."
Among the health consequences they cite as arising at least in part from
overweight and obesity are hypertension, cholesterol problems, insulin
resistance, cancers of the colon, breast, esophagus, endometrium and
kidney, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder
disease, osteoarthritis and psychological issues.
"Overweight persons ... also retire earlier, go at younger ages into
nursing homes, have higher absenteeism rates and are more likely to be
disabled," Kim and Popkin wrote. "...It is often the poor, people with
lower socioeconomic status and some socially disadvantaged racial/ethnic
groups that disproportionately suffer from the obesity epidemic, both
adults and children alike," the two wrote. "When the alarming increase
in weight nationally and globally is ignored, these already marginalized
and stigmatized subgroups, socially and health-wise, will suffer even
greater from obesity-related morbidity and mortality.
"We feel that treating a real health problem as non-existing is equally
irresponsible as blaming the victims only."
Kathrynne Holden, MS, RD < fivestar at nutritionucanlivewith.com >
"Ask the Parkinson Dietitian" http://www.parkinson.org/
"Eat well, stay well with Parkinson's disease"
"Parkinson's disease: Guidelines for Medical Nutrition Therapy"
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