Junkfood Science: JFS Exclusive: CDC admits there is no obesity epidemic!

November 28, 2007

JFS Exclusive: CDC admits there is no obesity epidemic!

Well, sort of. They appear to be doing their darndest to not let you know what they’ve known for years.

Today, the National Center for Health Statistics at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the latest obesity figures, from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES). The NCHS Data Brief was titled: “Obesity Among Adults in the United States — No Change Since 2003–2004.”

The key finding: “There was no significant change in obesity prevalence between 2003–2004 and 2005–2006 for either men or women...No significant difference in obesity existed between men and women.”

But there's more to this story.

The public, trying to learn the facts, has to pick through the intense spin in the 8-page report, filled with graphs and claims that “obesity continues to be a public health concern” and that there remain "alarmingly high rates of obesity in all population groups." As with all of the CDC reports on NHANES, generalizing the results of the representative samples to the entire population involved a calculated margin of error that made any tiny differences from year to year not statistically significant. That fact, however, is hard for most readers to discern, especially with some press stories handwringing that the untenable variations might mean something “worrisome.” The rest of the CDC report didn’t reveal any other new information. Middle age adults weigh more than younger or older people; hispanic and black women are generally heavier than white women; and there are no racial/ethnic weight disparities of BMI among men.

To realize the bigger significance of this story, though, we have to piece together the latest NHANES reports. As JFS has posted repeatedly, back in 2004, in the June issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the CDC had reported that there had been no significant increases in the numbers of U.S. adults or children considered “overweight” or “obese” from 1999-2000 through 2001-2002.

In other words, today’s report could more accurately been titled: “Obesity Among Adults in the United States — No Change Since 1999-2000.” There has been no statistically significant change in obesity rates for the past 7 years. That’s “obesity.” Not just those a few pounds “overweight.”

The media headlines should, at the very least, be shouting:

“Obesity Epidemic Over!”

Instead, the media across the country has only been able to bring itself to headline with things like: “U.S. Obesity Rates Seem to Have Leveled — Government Says Obesity Rates in the U.S. Have Leveled Off, At Least Temporarily.”

Some, like Dr. Sanjay Gupta at CNN, are already suggesting that their anti-obesity healthy lifestyle initiatives may be working — except their programs were started years after obesity rates had already stabilized. In fact, as has been reported at JFS, years before the marketing of an “obesity epidemic” went into high gear, the government's own data was already showing no significant changes or increases in rates of overweight or obesity among the U.S. population.

The war on obesity has been built on a scare campaign, albeit a profitable one for countless of interests, but harmful for all too many consumers. Knowing the facts makes the hysterical claims about the obesity crisis sound just plain absurd, doesn’t it?

How likely is it that the government will suddenly stop spending billions of our taxpayer dollars on a fictitious “obesity epidemic” — monies and limited resources that could be spent on real healthcare needs — and shut down its countless programs, now that the truth is out that there isn’t and never was an epidemic when they launched them?

Or, will they try to downplay this report, as they did the 2004 one? Or, will they try to redefine “epidemic” now, too?

The definition of epidemic: The unusually rapid increase and spread in the number of cases of a disease in a given location over a limited period of time.

There is no way the CDC’s own figures since 1999 can support its own claim that obesity is an epidemic.

Nor can its own figures support its claim that overweight and obesity is a public health crisis. While in reality, we’ve seen modest increases in actual heights and weights among the population for half a century, during that same period, life expectancies have increased to the longest in our history, and age-adjusted rates for chronic diseases have dramatically fallen.

Sadly, the only thing the CDC’s own figures can support is that we’ve been hoodwinked.

© 2007 Sandy Szwarc. All rights reserved.

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