Thursday, August 31, 2006

Legislating Weight Loss: Is Fatness a Federal Affair?

Legislating Weight Loss: Is Fatness a Federal Affair?

Thursday, August 31 2006 @ 08:33 AM PDT

HealthPull up the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) homepage these days, and it looks frighteningly like the latest copy of "Glamour" or “‘O’ Magazine.” At www.fda.gov/loseweight, we're told, "You Can Lose Weight—Here's How!" followed by instructions on counting calories, setting weight-loss goals and "giving ethnic foods a try."

Legislating Weight Loss: Is Fatness a Federal Affair?

By Maya Schenwar

Pull up the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) homepage these days, and it looks frighteningly like the latest copy of "Glamour" or “‘O’ Magazine.” At www.fda.gov/loseweight, we're told, "You Can Lose Weight—Here's How!" followed by instructions on counting calories, setting weight-loss goals and "giving ethnic foods a try." The goal is to combat what the FDA calls the "obesity epidemic," which supposedly claims the lives of 400,000 Americans per year. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2005 Dietary Guidelines target weight loss as America's number one health goal. The war on drugs is old news, ladies and gentlemen. It's time to rally the troops for the war on fat.

The FDA is spreading the message through a variety of obesity awareness advertisements and programs in schools and workplaces. Government intervention in weight loss doesn't stop at "educational" efforts, though. In many states, including Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and West Virginia, schools are required by law to weigh students each year and report their weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) to their parents, in a format much like an academic report card.

Meanwhile, at home, government health agencies claim that over 30 percent of Americans are obese, endangering their health and shortening their lives. However, many health professionals are questioning the link between body fat, illness and death.

Dr. Glenn A. Gaesser, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Virginia and author of Big Fat Lies: The Truth About Your Weight and Your Health , calls the FDA's standards for morbid obesity "arbitrary," noting that people do not die of fat.

“There are 'healthy obese' people who are in no need of 'treatment,'” he said. "Furthermore, most of the health problems of the 'unhealthy obese' (i.e., blood pressure, lipids, insulin and glucose) can be remedied by changes in diet and physical activity independent of weight loss." In his recent study, "Obesity, Health, and Metabolic Fitness," Gaesser reports that fat people are no more likely to have clogged arteries than thin people, and that body weight and BMI are not indicative of death rates. In fact, according to a study by the federal Center for Disease Control (CDC) itself, "excess" body fat does NOT claim 400,000 lives per year; people categorized as "overweight" (BMI 25-30) actually tallied 86,000 fewer deaths per year than those categorized as thin.

The rigid standards set by the government are outdated and are not based on sound science, says Peggy Howell, public affairs chair of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA). The height/weight charts that determine BMI were created in the 1970s, with only a slight revision in 1998. "I don't question the statistics that 30 percent of the American population is over a particular weight," Howell said. "I do, however, take exception to the yardstick they are using."

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