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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Is it ok to ask these question?

Our own Centers for Disease Control states that there has been a “Dramatic increase in the prevalence of obesity over the last 20 years”. This sure sounds alarming and gives the impression that we are rapidly approaching the end of our existence.

A little more reading from the CDC website tells me that obesity is measured by the Body Mass Index or BMI and that a BMI greater than 30 indicates obesity. Furthermore the BMI is said to be a reasonable indicator of body fatness and weight categories that may lead to health problems. Such verbiage seems to leave a certain amount of gray area in the obesity discussion.

The spike in obesity numbers as measured by the BMI is as reported by the CDC an estimate based on phone interviews where random people self report their height and weight. This estimated obesity epidemic based on self reporting causes the Centers for Disease Control to dole out millions of tax payer dollars each year to fight the self reported problem.

The reasons for the prevalence of obesity across various ethic groups are per the CDC complex and not well understood. Despite being not well understood 25 of the fattest states are given funding to provide evidence based programs to combat the “growing” problem. How you can have an evidence based program for a problem that is not well understood is a mystery to be addressed in a later post. Meanwhile based on what I have learned I have a few questions of my own.

In addition to the issue of obesity the subject of hunger is purported to be one of the major issues we face as a nation. Some statistics say that 1 in 8 people have issues related to food security or not having adequate food on a daily basis. At the risk of sounding cold and uncaring what is the obese group doing that the hungry group isn’t?

If there is a growing epidemic of obesity in the United States shouldn’t we be hearing of less and less hunger? At some point shouldn’t hunger be a thing of the past if in fact more and more are becoming obese? One of the primary reasons the CDC cites as contributing to the obesity epidemic is over eating of calorically dense foods. At some point in the future it only seems logical that these two issues will intersect, obesity will triumph and hunger will disappear once and for all.

Another thing I wonder about how the Centers for Disease Control is addressing the issue of obesity is when will they conclude that what is being done is not working? Since the late 70’s the USDA, CDC and many other government agencies have promoted the idea of eating a healthy diet spending millions of dollars in the process. Given the amount of time and money used to educate the population most could have a PhD level education in the finer points of nutrition and health. In fact most I talk with do have a good working knowledge of what it means to eat a healthy diet according to government recommendations. Yet there is an epidemic of obesity among the same population that should be fairly well versed in how to eat right.

Could we conclude based on this observation that knowing and doing are two very different things? Just because someone knows how to eat right doesn’t necessarily mean they will always desire to eat that way. This of course wades into the pond of freedom of choice, the very freedom we value as American citizens. For example what to eat, how much to eat, body image et al are largely determined on an individual level. At least they are determined by norms acceptable to ones own family or cultural heritage. In other words just because someone is obese based on the CDC BMI measurement may be irrelevant to certain people.

If weight, body image and diet are individual choices almost naturally then why should the CDC spend untold millions to cure what is a non issue to many people? Bear in mind that those are our dollars first and could be spent in smarter ways all too often.

What also strikes me as obvious in the discussion of health and nutrition is that no matter what your weight or BMI is illness and disease is a part of life. Then following that for 100% of us is death. Forgive me for sounding macabre but these are the facts of life. Given the facts wouldn’t it be simpler to just be left alone and live as we choose rather than always having some ominous government statistic stalking us? Assuming that the employees and staff of the Centers for Disease Control and every other health related government agency have the best intentions and motives I still want to live my life on my terms fat or thin. Is that too much to ask?

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