PREVENTIVE MEDICINE: Don't Fall for Lure of Ping-Pong Science
Katz, Dr David, New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
ACCORDING to a recent New York Times op-ed by Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado, our "fear" of fat -- namely epidemic obesity -- is, in a word, absurd.
Campos, the author of "The Obesity Myth," who has established something of a cottage industry contending that the fuss we make about epidemic obesity is all some government-manufactured conspiracy theory, or a confabulation serving the interests of the weight loss-pharmaceutical complex, was reacting to a meta- analysis, published last week in JAMA, indicating that mortality rates go up as obesity gets severe, but that mild obesity and overweight are actually associated with lower overall mortality than so-called "healthy" weight.
This study -- debunked for important deficiencies by many leading scientists around the country, and with important limitations acknowledged by its own authors -- was treated by Campos as if it was a third tablet on the summit of Mount Sinai.
Treating science like a Ping-Pong ball is what is absurd. It's also scary, as is the obesity epidemic.
As for the meta-analysis, a study designed to pool the results of other studies, the first, obvious limitation is that it examined mortality (death) but not morbidity (illness).
The Global Burden of Disease Study, recently published in The Lancet and sponsored by the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is widely acknowledged as one of the most comprehensive epidemiologic assessments in history.
What it shows, among countries around the world, is that we are living longer, but sicker -- and that obesity is one of the important reasons for the latter.
Thanks to the cutting edge of biomedical advance, we can often forestall death; but high- tech medicine is not remotely as useful for cultivating health and vitality.
When people get sick, they generally lose weight. The new study was in no way adjusted to exclude from the analysis people who were thin because they were sick. We have long had evidence that among older people, hanging on to weight is associated with better outcomes than losing weight. There is, as well, an enormous difference between being lean because of eating well and being physically active, and being lean because of anorexia nervosa or routine cocaine use.
The meta-analysis was blind to any such distinctions. …