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An Epidemic of Obesity Myths
A Better Study

The CDC’s original estimate of 400,000 deaths in 2000 stands in stark contrast to a study published by a team of researchers from the CDC and the NIH, which determined that overweight and obesity were responsible for 25,814 deaths in the United States in 2000.
"We should no longer be using the [CDC’s] relatively simple methodology."
— Dr. Rachel Ballard-Barbash, Associate Director of the National Cancer Institute’s Applied Research Program
The more recent study, published in JAMA, found that putting on a few extra pounds is not a lethal mistake. The study, led by CDC researcher Katherine Flegal, found no link between being overweight (a BMI between 25 and 29.9) and an increased risk of death. In fact, Flegal’s research indicates that being overweight may actually be safer than being a "normal" weight.

Body Mass Index

According to a study by CDC researchers, only those with a BMI of 35 or higher face a statistically significant increased risk of mortality.
(Source: Behavioral Risk Factor Survelance System, 2004)


Flegal’s team attributed 111,909 deaths each year to obesity. But when they add their obesity estimate to their estimate of overweight-attributable deaths (which is a negative number) they conclude: "... for overweight and obesity combined, our estimate was 25,814 excess deaths." According to their findings, "overweight" saves 86,094 American lives each year.

The vast majority of deaths associated with obesity (82,066 of 111,909) come from individuals with a BMI of 35 and above. According to The New York Times’ Gina Kolata, just 8 percent of the population has a BMI in this range. Meanwhile, the government continues to warn that 65 percent of Americans—those with a BMI of 25 and above—weigh too much.

At least they're not on fire