Is there an obesity epidemic?


Category : Medical Rants

Dr. Jeffrey Friedman disagrees with prevailing opinion. This article explains his view: The Fat Epidemic: He Says It’s an Illusion

But Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, an obesity researcher at Rockefeller University, argues that contrary to popular opinion, national data do not show Americans growing uniformly fatter.

Instead, he says, the statistics demonstrate clearly that while the very fat are getting fatter, thinner people have remained pretty much the same.

Let it be said that Dr. Friedman, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and the discoverer of the gene for leptin, a hormone released by fat cells, is not fat. He is tall and gangly, with the rumpled look of an academic scientist.

As an obesity researcher, he might be expected to endorse the prevailing view that obesity in this country is out of control. But Dr. Friedman said he was outraged by the acceptance of what he sees as a hurtful myth, one that encourages people to believe that if you are fat, it is your fault.

The obesity arena “is so political, so rife with misinformation and disinformation,” he said.

Dr. Friedman points to careful statistical analyses of the changes in Americans’ body weights from 1991 to today by Dr. Katherine Flegal of the National Center for Health Statistics. At the lower end of the weight distribution, nothing has changed, not even by a few pounds. As you move up the scale, a few additional pounds start to show up, but even at midrange, people today are just 6 or 7 pounds heavier than they were in 1991. Only with the massively obese, the very top of the distribution, is there a substantial increase in weight, about 25 to 30 pounds, Dr. Flegal reported.

As a result, the curve of body weight has been pulled slightly to the right, with more people shifting up a few pounds to cross the line that experts use to divide normal from obese. In 1991, 23 percent of Americans fell into the obese category; now 31 percent do, a more than 30 percent increase. But the average weight of the population has increased by just 7 to 10 pounds since 1991.

Dr. Friedman gave an analogy: “Imagine the average I.Q. was 100 and that 5 percent of the population had an I.Q. of 140 or greater and were considered to be geniuses. Now let’s say that education improves and the average I.Q. increases to 107 and 10 percent of the population has an I.Q. of above 140.

“You could present the data in two ways,” he said. “You could say that the average I.Q. is up seven points or you could say that because of improved education the number of geniuses has doubled.”

He added, “The whole obesity debate is equivalent to drawing conclusions about national education programs by saying that the number of geniuses has doubled.”

He has studied the data, and I have not. Nonetheless, obesity remains a major health risk (which he does not deny). Whether we have an epidemic or just a continuation of the status quo is (in my opinion) moot. I care for one patient at a time, and that patient will do better as they approximate ideal body weight.

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Comments (4)

Hmmm… Friedman is saying that the obesity phenotype is a genotype. Since the American phenotype distribution has changed significantly (in the statistical sense) in the past decade, then the genotype must also have changed significantly. The logic is inescapable.

Yet the American gene pool cannot have shifted that much in half a generation. Off the top of my head, the remaining possibilities are (1) environment, (2) Lamarckian inheritance, and (3) extra-genomic changes (i.e., infections).

Lamarckian inheritance? Maybe. It’s a secondary effect anyway, so it can’t be treated directly.

Infectious agents? Maybe. Viruses have been found that cause weight gain in some animals. Toxoplasma gondii does various “interesting” things to mammalian brains. Infectious causes are plausible, although hard to prove or disprove.

Environment? That’s where I put my bets. American consumption of fructose, finely-milled starch, and so forth has grown tremendously. Ditto for sedentary recreations like TV and video games. I find it hard to believe that Friendman’s finely-tuned genetic feedback loop is unaffected by peak blood sugar, meal size, strength fitness, and endurance fitness. It is even less believable that the feedback system controls those parameters to keep weight the same. Friedman will be entitled to his opinion once he can show studies that controlled meal size and composition, but not total calories.

Dr. Friedman your analogy reveals some basic problems. IQ is Intelligence quotient: that is, educational age divided by chronological age, so if education increased for everyone IQ would remain at 100. And an IQ of 140 is 4 standard deviations above the mean, meaning, 99.99% are between 60 and 140, and half are above 140, making it 0.0005% are over 140.

And our food industry produces 8300 calories per day for every man woman and child in America (David Katz, MD, Yale Public Health) We need about 2200 on average.

In the usual sense that we understand an epidemic, obesity probably would not fit that definition. It is more accurate to say that the incidence of obesity is increasing, not because it is transmitted like infectious diseases from one person to another, but more from the bad eating habits of those Americans who have endless opportunities to pig out in a country where abundance of food is no problem. That is in stark contrast to most countries, where starvation is more the rule than the exception.

We Americans have the habit of exaggerting, of using the hyperbole, even when the facts are laid out for us. Using “epidemic” of course works best for lawyers, who stand the best chance of getting all the lard in attempting to sue fast-food outlets and other companies. These lawyers are no more interested in your health as in gouging Macdonald’s and company for as much lucre as possible.

There is no argument about the risks attendant to obesity, but please, let’s stop corrupting the language to say what we mean, no more, no less.

I personally agree that the fat are getting fatter and that most everyone elses weight is only a bit higher but so our people’s height due to better nutrtion and that can cause a little higher weight plus we have more older people living longer and getting a little extra padding is normal.

also I seem to have gotten fatter despite weight watchers being a jogger for 10 years or more and eating only three meals a day being careful to keep caloiers down, contrary to popular belief, people like myself do not sit in front of the tv and gorge on chips and junk food all day long or dislike exercise, I have always exercised, it was not unusual for me to go for a two hour hike in the woods which around here are very hilly.

some times I would go for an hour walk during the week 2 or there days and long hikes on the week end, but that didn’t keep me or get me thin, in fact it may have contributed to be getting fatter.

the only epidemic I see is a dieting epidemic or food phobic or fat hatred epidemic, while they may say we eat more caloires per day than in the past (how do they know that do they moniter every single individual in the united states 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year?) and how do they know all the food being bought at the store is being eaten?

my cart is always full of “good and bad” foods each week but guess what many times I will cook a meal and end up not eating all of it because I got full and lost interest and guess who go the left overs? either the dog or the trash.

I don’t know how many times I only drank a half can of soda because I lost interest, or lost the craving for it and threw it out. I don’t save junk food when I lose interst it gets thrown out, some good foods I don’t save because it doesn’t taste good when reheated.

but foods that still taste pretty good get saved, but many times I end up throwing it out a few days later because I just don’t have a taste or craving for it. I don’t know how many times I would open a can of soup eat part of it and give the rest to the dog.

so how do they come to the conclusions we are all a bunch of food gorgers? because they see how fat we are getting, the food gorging is assumed, and we know what happens when we assume, because if you were not overeating you would not be fat. so it is a foregone conclusion, unfortunantly it is a myth or fallacy.

this scenario for my eating habits I am sure fit fat and thin people alike, my thin husband eats alot more junk food than I do, he is naturally thin, hasn’t a speck of fat on him except a small mid section that you don’t notice unless he is bending over, but other than that he is thin, yet the doctor said he should lose 30 pounds.

30 pounds!!!! do you know that if he did that he would dissapear if in fact the 30 pounds is actual fat and not muscle or water loss. 3 pounds of fat loss is a size, if he lost 30 pounds of fat (without losing muscles or water) he would lose 10 sizes, he would have no bottom or mid section. I don’t think there is 30 pounds of fat on him, he is muscular, because he lifts weights, and he loves long hikes and walks, and he works on a job where he is lifting and walking for hours on end.

so 30 pounds! give me a break. I explained to him some principles that is too lengthy here on why he should ignore the doctor (my hubby tried to go on a diet) and he stopped trying to diet.

thank goodness, dieting or restricting caloires (famine) makes you get fatter in the long run.


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