A book about obesity that batters the conventional wisdom

J. Eric Oliver has a new book called Fat Politics. I had lunch with the author (he is a professor in the Political Science department at the University of Chicago) about six months ago and was thoroughly entertained by the stories he told from this book. He let me read an early draft of the book, and I really liked it.

Publishers Weekly describes it as follows:

It’s not obesity, but the panic over obesity, that’s the real health problem, argues this scintillating contrarian study of the evergreen subject of American gluttony and sloth. Political scientist Oliver condemns what he feels is a self-interested “public health establishment”-obesity researchers seeking federal funding, pharmaceutical and weight-loss companies peddling diet drugs and regimens, bariatric surgeons and other health-care providers angling for insurance reimbursement-for spuriously characterizing fatness as a disease. He debunks the dubious science and alarmist PR that fuels their campaign, taking on arbitrary Body-Mass Index standards that slot even Michael Jordan in the overweight category, state-by-state maps of obesity rates that make fatness look like a contagion spreading over the countryside, and flimsy research studies that vastly exaggerate the danger and costs of weight gain. Oliver also examines American attitudes towards obesity, probing the abhorrence of fatness implicit in the Protestant ethic and, less plausibly, tying our contemporary feminine ideal of the emaciated supermodel to a confluence of sociobiology and the economics of the urban sexual marketplace. Arguing that fatness is perfectly compatible with fitness, he contends that scapegoating obesity drives Americans to experiment with dangerous crash diets, appetite suppressants and weight-loss surgeries, while distracting us from underlying harmful changes in the American lifestyle-mainly our incessant snacking on junk food and shunning of exercise and physical activity, of which weight gain is perhaps merely a “benign symptom.” Oliver provides a lucid, engaging critique of obesity research and a shrewd analysis of the socioeconomic and cultural forces behind it. The result is a compelling challenge to the conventional wisdom about our bulging waistlines.

Dubner also saw an early draft and gave it his very highest compliment: “This reads like something that we could have written!”


frykitty

Sounds like Oliver is covering much of the ground recently trod by Paul Campos with "The Obesity Myth"--another very good read, where Campos calls fatphobia a "moral panic".

Mike

MMmmmm.... battered conventional wisdom. That's delicious.

OUPblog

Freakonomists on Fat

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, authors of Freakonomics, the book / blog sensation of the year, paid Fat Politics by J. Eric Oliver their "very highest compliment" over the weekend, saying: “This reads like something that we could have written!”

J_Brockington

Looks like a must-read.

Big Fat Blog

New Book: Fat Politics

Thousands of BFBers have pointed me to the new book by J. Eric Oliver, Fat Politics. Freakonomics author Steven...

javabean

Americans are too comfortable with being fat, in politically correct speech fatness is just another lifestyle, "alternative body image".

But it's true that there is not much they can do about that. Suburbia where they live leaves you no choice, you have to drive everywhere, there is not place to walk, it's depressing and that makes you eat more et cetera. Just compare number of fat people in a suburban mall and in the NYC streets.

StCheryl

Go out to the far reaches of Brooklyn or Queens -- you may revise that comment!

Korry

Apparently javabean doesn't understand the concept of "benign symptom." There's nothing wrong with people being comfortable being fat.

jhg

I am sure there are some great contrarion arguments to be made about obesity, but as a practicing physician in the trenches I can tell you the dangers of obesity are not being overplayed. The morbibity and mortality of obesity strikes people in the prime of life leaving them disabled and on a slew of medication. Counterarguments may make for fun intellectual play, but in the end undercut serious public health efforts.

Galen

No one argues that obesity is healthy, but there is a great likelihood that the public awareness campain by the government, media, and medical establishment will end up doing more harm than good.

http://galenslog.typepad.com/galens_log/2005/04/the_power_of_ju.html

tgower

I'm sure Mr. Oliver makes some valid points in his new book. There is some evidence that obesity statistics have been exaggerated, and yes, the BMI is a flawed tool, and obviously the drug cos. have an interest in "medicalizing" fatness. However, I can't agree that the alleged "obesity panic" is a greater danger than obesity itself. Just look at the diabetes stats. The number of Americans with type 2 diabetes has increased about 12 times since 1950, and obesity is the leading cause. Doesn't sound too "benign" to me.

ars

Mr. Oliver is right that obesity is bad thing. Fact is that every day more and more people become lazier and don't want to do any physical activities. If we consider that each person has different metabolism, it is not surprise that almost half of world have too much weigh.

Parrot

Tgower - you are absolutely wrong. Diabetes has not significantly increased in decades, this has been shown by the NHANES cohort studies. And obesity is not the leading cause of Diabetes, in fact the link between obesity and Diabetes is pretty weak by epdemiological standards.

JHG - I can see how you might form such an opinion, but the fact is that you're working with a self-selected sample. The only time overweight people see a physician is when they're sick, and that can lead to some very misleading conclusions.

But the fact of the matter is that this is not just "intellectual play" - the scientific data explicitly and overwhelmingly shows that being overweight is not a huge health hazard. The fact that so many people are willing to accept that it is is quite a shame.

marjorie

would u give us some example of book about bibliography

Leah

"The number of Americans with type 2 diabetes has increased about 12 times since 1950, and obesity is the leading cause. "

Just because many people with diabetes are overweight does not mean that obesity is the "cause". It only means that there is an association. Perhaps diabetes causes obesity rather than obesity causing diabetes. Or, more likely, perhaps diabetes and obesity are simply symptoms of the same underlying problem. This still doesn't negate the fact that you can be "overweight" by US standards and still healthy.

frykitty

Sounds like Oliver is covering much of the ground recently trod by Paul Campos with "The Obesity Myth"--another very good read, where Campos calls fatphobia a "moral panic".

Mike

MMmmmm.... battered conventional wisdom. That's delicious.

OUPblog

Freakonomists on Fat

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, authors of Freakonomics, the book / blog sensation of the year, paid Fat Politics by J. Eric Oliver their "very highest compliment" over the weekend, saying: "This reads like something that we could have written!"

J_Brockington

Looks like a must-read.

Big Fat Blog

New Book: Fat Politics

Thousands of BFBers have pointed me to the new book by J. Eric Oliver, Fat Politics. Freakonomics author Steven...