Obesity Myths

I have to be honest — myths that people accept as facts drive me bananas. I think it may be a function of my Asperger’s syndrome. I am made completely insane when commonly held beliefs have no basis in fact because 1) I like my facts to be factual and 2) I feel like people are being lied to or deceived by trusted sources.

First, there is the myth of the “obesity epidemic” itself.

The so-called obesity epidemic is largely based on smoke and mirrors, since the “alarm over body weight is based on current definitions in which anyone with a body mass index (BMI; weight in kilos divided by height in meters squared) over 25 is deemed “overweight” and anyone with a BMI over 30 is labeled “obese.” By these definitions, an average height woman (5′4′′) is “overweight” at 146 pounds and “obese” at 175 pounds, while a man of average height (5′9′′) is “overweight” at 170 pounds and “obese” at 203 pounds. Over one-half of the U.S. population in the 1960s and almost two-thirds of the U.S. population today weigh “too much” by these standards (Flegal et al., 2002, 2005; Kuczmarski et al., 1994).” Furthermore, the obesity epidemic may even be a good thing since “A 2005 study by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested that it is only after BMI reaches 35 that there is a meaningful increase in mortality, and that people in the “overweight” category (BMI between 25 and 30) actually have the lowest rate of mortality (Flegal et al., 2005).”

Some more good information you should have about the obesity epidemic can be found in Dr. Linda Bacon’s book, Health at Every Size. In pages 140-155 of that book Dr. Bacon explains that the shift in the percentage of Americans considered obese (23% in 1991 and now at 30%) is really a difference of an average increase of 7-10 lbs since 1991.  In 1998 the NIH changed lowered the BMI scores that would be normal, overweight, or obese. Thus, 29 million Americans became overweight once the numbers changed, even though there was no clinical reason to change the figures. I am sure it is a complete coincidence that 7 out of 9 people on the NIH committee worked for or owned weight loss companies.

The obesity epidemic isn’t even based in epidemiology because fat is not a disease. Dr. Robert Lustig, who is the professor from the University of California who did such an awesome rant on sugar/high fructose corn syrup, points out thatObesity costs us zero dollars and causes zero deaths … Chronic metabolic disease, which is associated with obesity but may have additional or different causes, costs us $192 billion per year.” Even doctors who see “a very clear correlation between diabetes and obesity”, such as Marion Nestle, maintain that “[o]besity is a risk factor, not a disease“.

In response, “Lustig points to research that shows that as many as 40 percent of people who are at a healthy weight, as defined by their BMI score, have some aspect of metabolic dysfunction, such as hypertension, high cholesterol or Type 2 diabetes. On the flip side, 20 percent of obese people do not have any associated metabolic condition. He holds diets with an excess of sugar, or lack thereof, responsible for this discrepancies.”

Moreover, the obesity rates for women have leveled off since 1999 and men have been the same percentage since 2003, so the epidemic isn’t even “growing” anymore! How do you have an epidemic with no epidemiology?

Dr. Bacon also points out that most scientific data doesn’t correlate fat with negative health outcomes until a BMI of 40, so that’s where obese should start. However, thanks to the NIH shift, you are obese with at BMI of 30 or more. That 10 points is a LOT of weight difference.

For example, a person who is 5’5″ who weighs 180 has a BMI of 30 according to the NIH. That means they are obese with all the scary things that implies. They need to lose weight “for their health” … not so they can look “better” by cultural standers, right? Yet to have a BMI of 35-40, where the negative correlation between health and weigh seems to start, you need to be 5’5″ with a weight of between 210 – 240 lbs. That’s a difference of 30 to 60 lbs between ascribed and ‘real’ obesity! I wonder if they would have as many people lined up at diet clinics if people knew that weighing 200 pounds was only dangerous to their social life?

Probably, because of the massive amounts of discrimination and condemnation fat people experience in day to day life.

What if the people who mock and despise other humans based on the amount of fat on their body didn’t have the battle cry of “it’s for their health!” as an excuse for prejudice? Would fat-hate be seen as the bias it truly is if the pretense that the hatred of fat people is “for their own good”? Fat-hate is a serious cultural problem. It is more deadly than the obesity epidemic, inasmuch as doctors are also prejudiced against fat people and more likely to let fat people die of preventable or treatable ailments. Nature World News reports that “Physicians build less rapport with obese and overweight patients, according to a study published in the medical journal, Obesity.” Not to mention “shaming” people into losing weight is a terrible strategy for “helping” them, since fat-shaming increases the likelihood of weight gain

A lot of the discrimination against fat people is based on the myth that weight is simply a matter of diet and exercise. In this world view, the only reason for obesity is sloth and gluttony. Ergo, fat becomes a physical manifestation of another person lack of control and makes them a “bad” person because of their supposed overindulgence. If you are fat, then you deserve to be humiliated as punishment for being a lazy pig.


Weight and body fat are not solely the products of diet and exercise. The reality is that genes and non-genetic factors, like stress, poverty, ethnicity, sleep deprivation, the bacteria in your gut, and being a sexual/physical/emotional abuse survivor all increase your chances of being overweight of obese.

Plus, new information on the way modern society is packing weight on us crops up all the time. Recently they have discovered that when you digest super-processed junk food, like fast food and sugar and HFCS, it makes your immune system think it is under attack and sets up minor but long term inflammation in your body. This is not good, because“Chronic, low-grade inflammation has long been recognized as a feature of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of dysfunctions that tends to precede full-blown diabetes and that also increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, and even dementia—the top killers of the developed world. The syndrome includes a combination of elevated blood sugar and high blood pressure, low “good” cholesterol, and an abdominal cavity filled with fat, often indicated by a “beer belly.”

Additionally, the rampant antibiotic use in factory farms is linked to increasing obesity. Air pollution has been linked with obesity – should we stop breathing to show our “will power” over fat? Pesticides (especially DDT) have been correlated with obesity, but that’s not something addressed by Weight Watchers. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been connected to obesity. Something in the environment is clearly spurring weight gain since even lab animals, with their carefully controlled diets, have gotten significantly fatter; especially chimpanzees, whose “average body weight had risen 35 per cent per decade”.

Nevertheless, fat is still seen as a personal, preventable, failing.

Finally, I go a little bonkers when the media trumpets how well diets “work”. No, no they don’t. The New England Journal of Medicine recently published an article by a group of doctors that spelled out a bunch of the myths and unproven beliefs about where, what, why, and when of how people become (cue the ominous music!) OBESE. The article flat out states that: “Trying to go on a diet or recommending that someone go on a diet does not generally work well in the long term.” Worse, restricting calories is bad for your health and actually causes long term weight gain.

There is a REASON 95-98% of dieters have regained their lost weight (plus some) by five years. Your body is genetically prone to storing extra weight, or it is not. Obesity researcher Dr. Rudy Leibel noted one study which  showed, “ the average weight gain in the cohort (all slim people) after eating 5000 calories a day and not exercising, was only 6-11 lbs! After the experiment, they all easily went back to their normal weight without “doing anything”. This tended to suggest that the affinity to gain weight as well as the affinity to eat when no longer “hungry” may be genetic also.”

Ignorance of the basic facts of the inadvisability of diets is why you read heartbreaking articles about people who, AS HAS BEEN PROVEN WILL HAPPEN MORE THAN 95% OF THE TIME, lose weight and then gain more back, blame themselves, shame themselves, then quotes a few doctors about how common this is, trumpets one study that shows exercise keeps lost weight off for a year (but no word on 5 years, huh?), and ends with the by saying, “With so many drawbacks, you might wonder if you’d be better off just accepting your belly rolls. But the perils of being overweight still outweigh the risks of yo-yoing. So how do you quit the cycle for good? Despite what you read in the tabloids, it is possible”, which is completely counter to the facts given about weight gain an the dangers of yo-yo dieting by physicians who were interviewed in the article itself! Multiple studies have shown yo-yo dieting wrecks your health. The few studies saying yo-yo diets weren’t dangerous were done on ANIMALS in lab conditions, not people.


In reality, the biggest factor in poor health or early death is actually a sedentary lifestyle, whether you are fat or not. In fact, studies have shown that “Even for the severely obese — those with a body mass index above 35 — exercising for about 2.5 hours a week at moderate intensity or for 75 minutes at vigorous levels puts average life expectancy a notch above that of a normal-weight person who is sedentary”.

You cannot tell by looking at most people if they move around enough, not even if they have a big fat butt. My wobbly body can be seen in the YMCA multiple times a week, paying people to make me run/dance/swim/suffer, yet it does not get slimmer.  That’s because exercise makes you healthier, not thinner.

The worst thing about being overweight is the ridicule and prejudice you’ll face because of the pervasive myths about obesity. Thus, I am working hard to spread the good word that almost everything the media tells you about fat and health is a distortion, misinformation, or an outright lie.

Y’all share the info, okay?

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