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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!”