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An Epidemic of Obesity Myths
Experts’ Take on Obesity and Mortality

Experts across the country and around the world are skeptical of the link between obesity and mortality.
"The major problem with this ‘obesity kills’ statistic is the lack of compelling evidence to substantiate it."
Harvard Health Policy Review, 2003

"The data linking overweight and death, as well as the data showing the beneficial effects of weight loss, are limited, fragmentary, and often ambiguous. Most of the evidence is either indirect or derived from observational epidemiologic studies, many of which have serious methodologic flaws … In this age of political correctness, it seems that obese people can be criticized with impunity, because the critics are merely trying to help them. Some doctors take part in this blurring of prejudice and altruism by overstating the dangers of obesity and the redemptive powers of weight loss."
—Editorial published in The New England Journal of Medicine, 1998

"Studies concluding that obesity is harmful are embraced, despite potential flaws. Studies concluding that obesity is [not harmful] are rejected or simply ignored, regardless of merit."
Journal of Obesity and Weight Regulation, 1987

"Someone needs to say the emperor has no clothes … [the conventional wisdom on obesity] is cultural bias, not science."
—Dr. C. Wayne Callaway, Professor of Medicine, George Washington University, 1998

"These studies suggest that health problems frequently blamed on excess body weight are more likely caused by an unhealthy lifestyle rather than obesity itself."
—Letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 1998

"Evidence that it is more dangerous to be thin than fat is either ignored or minimized in analyses that shape public policy toward weight loss … What evidence exists for an association between obesity and mortality or morbidity, is usually found not to apply to those with mild to moderate obesity."
Clinical Psychology Review, 1991

"Of all our convictions about health, the belief that obesity itself is a killer has no rival when it comes to the gap between conventional wisdom and scientific evidence … [T]he health risks of moderate obesity have been greatly overstated."
—Dr. Glenn Gaesser, Professor of Exercise Physiology, University of Virginia, 1997

"The idea has been greatly oversold that the risk of dying prematurely or of having a heart attack is directly related to relative body weight."
—University of Minnesota Professor Emeritus Ancel Keys, W.O. Atwater Memorial Lecture, 1980

"The establishment clings to the belief that weight causes disease and death just as people once insisted that the world was flat."
—Dr. Susan Wooley, Professor Emerita, University of Cincinnati, 1998

"The major studies of obesity and mortality fail to show that overall obesity leads to greater risk."
—Dr. Reubin Andres, National Institutes of Health, 1980

"[M]ost epidemiological studies reveal that aside from the extremes, BMI is not that strong a predictor of death rates."
QUEST, the official journal of the National Association for Kinesiology and Physical Education in Higher Education, 2004

"Many longitudinal cohort studies reported no direct relationship between body weight and mortality; in others a negative relationship was observed."
International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 1996

"Increased body mass index was marginally associated with reduced risk of mortality … In many studies overall obesity—often expressed as an elevated body mass index—has not been significantly related to myocardial infarction."
British Medical Journal, 1993

"Studies on the relation between body weight and mortality have shown inconsistent results … [W]e did not find an increased mortality at the upper end of the BMI distribution."
Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 1997

"A report from the WHO-MONICA study that examined the correlation between changes in risk factors and coronary heart disease (CHD) incidence rates from 38 separate international populations found that increasing BMI trends were actually associated with declining CHD rates among men; among women, there was no association between changes in BMI and CHD."
JAMA, 2005

"These results suggest that high levels of obesity indicators are only slightly associated with an excess mortality and that overweight and obesity are health hazards only if they are accompanied by an elevation of other risk factors, mainly of blood pressure … Everything else being equal, the contribution of elevated levels of BMI to the risk of dying in the next 10 years is limited … The limited role of elevated BMI in general mortality when other risk factors, mainly [blood pressure], do not increase together with BMI is confirmed also by the simple analyses reported."
Preventative Medicine, 1993

"…increased BMI (i.e., overweight and obesity) was not an independent predictor of cardiovascular risk … overweight and obese women with normal metabolism have a relatively low cardiovascular risk."
Circulation, 2004

"Many studies have reported no association between body weight and mortality. [Dr. Ancel] Keys’ review of 13 prospective studies found that only one showed a definite univariate relationship between overweight and CHD. Similarly, review of 16 prospective studies of obesity and mortality led Andres to conclude that obesity does not influence total mortality the way one would expect."
American Journal of Public Health, 1989

"The resulting empirical findings from each of four race/sex groups, which are representative of the US population, demonstrate a wide range of BMIs consistent with minimum mortality and do not suggest that the optimal BMI is at the lower end of the distribution for any subgroup."
American Journal of Epidemiology, 1998

"The levels of BMI carrying the minimum risk of death are higher than expected—that is, about 29 units of BMI for middle aged men, 27 to 29 units for young women, and nearly 32 units for middle aged women."
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 1998

"Neither coronary heart disease nor cancer, the two leading causes of death, was significantly associated with BMI."
Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 1990

"The minimum mortality [for women over 50] occurred at a BMI of approximately 34."
Journal of Women’s Health, 1998

"Preventing overweight would have had only a negligible effect on mortality in the present study population; this confirms the results of several studies that document only a weak association between high body weight and mortality."
British Medical Journal, 1990

"…nine-year mortality data from NHANES I were analyzed … mortality for all women combined did not vary according to BMI. For men, a small positive effect was seen only in the highest BMI category."
Nutrition Reviews, 1993

From a 2005 Study in the British Medical Journal...
"No excess adult health risk from childhood or teenage overweight was found. Being thin in childhood offered no protection against adult fatness, and the thinnest children tended to have the highest adult risk at every level of adult obesity …"

"The absence of an association between body mass index at age 9 and percentage body fat at age 50 suggests that the association between childhood and adult body mass index, seen in this and previous studies, may mainly reflect tracking of build rather than fatness. Muscle mass and the size of the bony frame also contribute to body mass index. This is particularly relevant in children, in whom obesity is rare and lean mass makes a substantial contribution to body mass index. This may explain why raised childhood and teenage body mass index showed no positive association with risk of adult disease. In fact, the trend was consistently negative, suggesting that those thinnest in childhood have the highest overall risk of adult disease … Another large early study that measured a similar range of risk factors to ours, also found no overall excess adult disease risk from high childhood body mass index and that men thinnest in childhood were at greatest risk after adjustment for adult body mass index …"

"Current concerns about rising rates of overweight in children also hinge on the assumption that fat children are more likely to become fat adults. Our data suggest a much less deterministic situation. There was a high degree of variation between childhood and midlife in degrees of fatness and no net increase in adult disease risk for overweight children or teenagers …"