I think what we are seeing is what is called a “moral panic.” That is, we are seeing a fixation on a particular risk that is out of all proportions to the actual significance of the risk with a projection of the risk out on to a certain group of people who can be blamed in a fashion which, in the sociological literature, is described as a folk devil, essentially.
And that’s I think, what we are seeing with overweight and obesity. There are all of these claims that have been made with increasing intensity over the course of the last few years that overweight and obesity are causing some sort of massive health crisis in the United States.
There’s really no evidence for this at all. And if you look at the overall epidemiological picture and the overall public health picture, as a lot of people and skeptical journalists, thankfully, are beginning to do, you see that, in fact, overall health in the United States is better now than it has ever been before; not only is life expectancy longer than it’s ever been before, but morbidity, in terms of all of the major killers, is down.
We may have lower rates of heart disease and hypertension than we did a generation ago. We have lower rates of cancer. Diabetes — despite the constant claims that we hear about a diabetes explosion — the rate of the adult onset diabetes or Type-2 diabetes — appears to be basically constant. It has not really increased over the course of the last 10 to 15 years [….]
That’s one of the things people don’t appreciate about this phenomenon. It’s not that this is somehow, in any way, limited to the United States. If you look at any developed economy, roughly half the population or more is “overweight.” Nations in Western Europe have the same average BMI or even higher than we have in the United States.
Nick Schulz: Most people will be surprised to know that.
Paul Campos: Yeah. It comes as a big surprise because there’s this assumption that always, because Americans, we are so lazy and…
Nick Schulz: Their car culture —
Paul Campos: Right. You know, it’s really one of those things that is a product of powerful social myths that are not very amenable to reason. Because by any objective criteria, the notion that Americans are lazy people in comparison to the rest of the world is a kind of crazy notion. But it’s one that is constantly being reiterated in this context.
I really think that what’s fueling this on a basic level are these anxieties about decadence and over-consumption and laziness and that somehow we’ve got something wrong with ourselves as a nation. And this is always being projected out on to this matter of weight.
Whole article here, well worth reading.
UPDATE: I’m in a place with CNN Headline News on right now. Every 30 minutes they tell you that being fat gives you cancer, and that even being a tiny bit overweight is very very bad for you, and all this stuff. And that the studies that said that being a little overweight might be better for you than being a little underweight must have been flawed because some of the underweight people were sick and so that doesn’t count does it? Really supports Campos’ diagnosis of culturewide hysteria.