The U.S. has many obese people, but not an outbreak. The conventional wisdom machine has convinced many of us of a phantom epidemic by failing to cover contrary facts.
The Dr. Oz interview of Mrs. Obama revolved around obesity, specifically in children. Mrs. Obama mentioned the often-noted fact that the drastic rise in obese children has happened in a single generation. She’s right, but not due to changes in childhood size. The “epidemic” results from changes made to measurement and classification in the national statistics. They moved the goal posts. From “The Epidemic that Wasn’t“:
The latest statistics on childhood overweight from the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They show that since the childhood growth charts were redesigned nearly a decade ago, there have been no statistically significant change in the percentages of young people at or above the 95th percentile (labeled as “overweight” and some are now calling “obese”).
This is significant because prior to 1999, the definition of “overweight” and how it was measured changed, as did surveillance. Even the NHANES surveys were redesigned several times. That makes it especially challenging for the public to readily see what’s happened and exactly how much children have grown. [See Creating an Epidemic.] The last statistical change that helped to accentuate public perceptions of an epidemic was when new child growth charts were issued in 2000, using BMIs rather than heights and weights (instantly placing nearly two-thirds of children in higher percentiles, despite no increase in their actual weights). An epidemic of obesity was declared by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson on March 9, 2004, launching an aggressive government campaign and massive funding to address a purported crisis. This was followed in 2005 by the Surgeon General Richard Carmona making the epidemic of childhood obesity a national priority and anti-obesity initiatives went into high gear. Claims of an epidemic of childhood obesity continued even while repeated reports were being issued by the National Center for Health Statistics continuing to show no actual increase in children’s sizes since 1999.
In addition to trying to fix a phantom problem, Mrs. Obama’s healthy eating “crusade” is a poor solution.