Is obesity really an epidemic? Should we wage war on it?

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Some critics argue that calling it either ‘the obesity epidemic’ or ‘the war on obesity’ is misleading and can have dangerous consequences. They point to serious issues such as inaccurate measurement using BMI, the misleading claims of a burgeoning weight-loss industry, and the stigmatization of overweight people.

Questioning the crisis

Fat Edition: Is the Obesity Epidemic for Real?
By Stephen Dubner, Freakonomics, 2010
Questions the use of the term ‘epidemic’ in relation to obesity.

There is a Public Health Crisis – It’s Not Fat on The Body but Fat in the Mind and the Fat of Profits 
By Susie Orbach, International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 35, Issue 1, 2006, pp. 67-69 
The author of Fat is a Feminist Issue argues that the way obesity is being framed as a crisis or an epidemic is stigmatizing overweight people and adding dangerously to disordered eating, which is itself a serious public health emergency.

The Epidemiology of Overweight and Obesity: Public Health Crisis or Moral Panic?
By Paul CamposAbigail SaguyPaul ErnsbergerEric Oliver and Glenn Gaesser, International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 35, Issue 1, 2006, pp. 55-60 
A commentary on the Susie Orbach article listed above.

Fat Politics: The Real Story Behind America's Obesity Epidemic 
By Eric Oliver, Oxford University Press, 2006
Argues that “a handful of doctors, government bureaucrats, and health researchers, with financial backing from the drug and weight-loss industries, have campaigned to create standards that mislead the public.”

To BMI or not to BMI? The measurement debate

Whose Voice Carries the Most Weight? A Critical Examination of Discourses Surrounding the Body Mass Index
By Jenn Anderson, Michigan State University, 2011
Looks at how the BMI came to be our primary measurement of body weight, and how it has prevailed as a measurement for health risks, despite evidence that it may not be the best method.

BAI better Than BMI? Scientists Develop New Way to Measure Fat 
By Julie Steenhuysen, Reuters, 2011
Reports on a new way of measuring body fat, the Body Adiposity Index (BAI), which relies on height and hip measurements, that is meant to offer a more flexible alternative to BMI, a ratio of height and weight.

The stigma of being overweight

The Fat Studies Reader 
By Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solovay, Eds., NYU Press, 2009
A collection of 53 essays from the growing movement known as ‘fat studies’, exploring a wide range of topics related to body weight, related to sexism, racism, homophobia and many other angles. Contains one chapter on research done in Canada: “Not Jane Fonda: Aerobics for Fat Women Only”.

The Stigma of Obesity: A Review and Update
By Rebecca Puhl and Chelsea Heuer, Obesity, 2009
Examines the evidence that obese people face many forms of prejudice because of their weight, comparable to rates of racial discrimination, especially among women.  For example, women are 16 times more likely to report weight-related employment discrimination than men.

The Stigma of Obesity in Women: The Difference is Black and White
By Michelle Hebl and Todd Heatherton, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Volume 24, Number 4, April 1998, pp. 417-426
Examines how Black and white women in the U.S. have different perceptions of stigma related to weight.

Broadening our Understanding of Violence Against Women: Lesbian Experience and Fat-Oppression
By Jennifer Pearson, National Eating Disorder Information Centre, 1993
Discusses how overweight women and lesbians are stigmatized, and the implications of this stigma for lesbians with disordered eating, and for all women.


Health at Every Size:  Can we make peace with obesity?