Has the obesity epidemic been blown out of proportion?
Before I get into today's topic, let me ask you a question: Do you think there are more fat people now than there used to be?
I just read an article that made me think that maybe we're not as fat as we think we are. Oh, don't get me wrong - you don't have to strain your eyes to see that more than a few Americans could stand to drop a pound - or 10. But a new and incredibly controversial study is calling the obesity epidemic a bunch of B.S.
The man who has dared to come out and say that "the obesity epidemic has absolutely been exaggerated" is Dr. Vincent Marks, emeritus professor of clinical biochemistry at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom. And while I don't agree with everything he says, I love the fact that he's saying it. Hey, I've got to give credit to an iconoclast who's cut from the same cloth I am, right?
Here's a doctor who's out there contradicting the long-held and cherished beliefs of the mainstream medical community - just like me. And since my "wrongheaded" views are routinely found to be correct upon further review, I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't at least give Dr. Marks the credit I believe he deserves.
Marks questions the data upon which the current claims about an obesity epidemic are based, and doubts that being fat is the root cause of health ailments like cancer, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
There's a very good reason I'm in Dr. Mark's corner - one of the examples his opponents points to as "proof" that he's wrong is diabetes. The article quotes Dr. James Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado, who says that "Type two diabetes rarely happens in people who aren't obese."
But as I've pointed out on more than one occasion, obesity doesn't cause diabetes, and diabetes doesn't cause obesity. What obesity and diabetes have in common is that they can both result from the excessive intake of sugar and starch-based substandard foods.
I'm not alone. Others have leapt to the defense of Dr. Marks, notably Eric Oliver, a political science professor at the University of Chicago and author of the book Fat Politics. Oliver says that blaming obesity for heart attacks and diabetes is just a red herring, and that there are other factors in these maladies -- like exercise, diet, and genetic predisposition to disease. These are all harder to pin down than your weight - which can be easily measured. I'm inclined to agree with Oliver.
Marks has a few more points to make
He also points out, in typical contrarian fashion, how shoddy research and the fast-and- loose interpretation of statistics are used to prop up popular notions about weight. Being English, Marks's battleground is the U.K rather than the U.S., but when he attacks the so-called cold-hard facts that led to the British government's warning that "nearly half of Britain" would be obese by 2050, it makes you wish he'd come take a closer look at our numbers. Marks noted that there was "relatively little change" in Britain's national weight averages from 1993 to 2006.
These aren't baseless theories that Marks espouses-they're backed by research. In 2005, a CDC study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that overweight people typically live longer than so-called "normal weight" people. (A conclusion which, by the way, was reached by more than a dozen other studies.) As you can imagine, the mainstream medical community went into immediate damage control mode, attacking the research's legitimacy.
Indeed, it's a known fact that, statistically, fat people have better odds of surviving heart attacks (some theorize that the hearts of overweight people often work harder and are therefore better conditioned to endure stress).
I could go on in my support of Marks. When you really get down to what he's saying, it's not as outrageous as the article makes it out to be. We are such a society of extremes and absolutes that we often refuse to believe that the world of health - like the rest of the world - is painted not in black or white, but in shades of gray.
Not once does Marks advocate that fatter is better. He merely points out that there's been some needless and wrong-headed hysteria about the apparent death sentence that can be brought on by a couple of extra pounds. I'm glad I'm not the only one who's willing to take a stand with an unpopular opinion. If the medical community loses people like Marks (and myself), it could lead to big trouble. It's essential for doctors to keep an open mind.