Saturday, August 17, 2002

Fat Follow-up: I pooh-poohed the BMI-based "obesity crisis" back on 7/30/02. I would have thought Michael Fumento, professional junk science debunker, would agree with me. Nope; he's on board with the obesity crisis. He is generally very good about research - he has access to something called Medline for medical research info - so maybe he knows something I don't. I remain skeptical to the point of disbelief. But in the interest of a second opinion, here's a page of links to Fumento's articles on obesity.

He offers an explanation for one of the things I smart-asred about - the sudden increase in obesity in the 80s.
"I only ate a muffin – and it was low-fat." Probably nothing has done more to make America the Land of the Fat than the low-fat/no-fat fad and the incredible growth of portion sizes. Study after study has shown that hips, thighs and bellies couldn't care less whether calories are from fat, carbohydrates or protein. Only calories count. Part of the confusion is because foods naturally low in fat, like vegetables, fruits and grains, are also usually low in calories and very satiating. But that low-fat banana muffin eaten this morning was packed with so much sugar it had more calories than eight bananas. And far better to eat one satisfying cookie teeming with fat than half a box of no-fat, high-sugar ones that taste like chocolate-flavored Styrofoam.

Portion sizes have exploded; muffins now are many times larger than just a few years ago. The original Coca-Cola bottles meant for individual consumption contained 6.5 ounces. In Europe, they're still around 8. In the USA, machines now dispense 20-ounce soda bottles, while convenience stores routinely dispense 64-ounce buckets of drink - 10 times the original serving size.
OK, I'll accept those trends as a possible cause, but I still think BMI is not an appropriate or accurate measure and I question the description of a crisis. I just don't think increases in weight can be all lumped together under the heading of "fatter". For instance, back in the 70s it was common to see a Major League Baseball shortstop at around 5'3" 120 lbs. Not any more. But I would hardly claim that Major League shortstops are obese. I have not seen anything that indicates that BMI based measurements are sorting out the difference between truly obese people and big or muscular people. It needs to be a lot more accurate before I believe it. One thing we do agree on is this.
[S]cience has always said that maintaining a healthful body weight is no more complex or magical than simply balancing calories burned versus calories consumed, regardless of the source.

A slew of studies have looked precisely at this issue, providing subjects limited-calorie diets with varying amounts of fat, protein and carbohydrates. Most have found that persons eating a high-fat diet lost as much body fat as, or more than, those on a low-fat one.

One such, at New York's Rockefeller University, reported back in 1992, fed all subjects liquid formulas with the percentage of fat ranging from zero all the way up to 70 percent of total calories. The result? "A calorie is a calorie," said the primary researcher.

Dietary data from countries around the world also show no correlation between fat consumption and obesity levels — except that Americans get far fewer of their calories from fat than do countries where people look like stick figures compared to us...

Finally, historical U.S. consumption data show that we now get a considerably smaller percentage of our calories from fat than we did not so long ago...

Since 1977-78, fat as a percentage of our diets has dropped by over 17 percent, even as obesity has increased by over 25 percent. The fewer calories we've taken in from fat, the fatter we've become.
A calorie is a calorie and that's what really matters if you are dieting, not the composition of the food. The only reason low-fat or low-carb diets seem to work is that they eliminate certain foods from your diet and there by naturally decrease your intake when those forbidden foods are the ones in front of your face.