Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/03/17/bmi_rubbish/
Obesity witchhunt is a 'moral panic' - sense out of Texas
We need a total ban on Body Mass Index statistics
Comment A lone researcher has dared to speak up against the obesity health insanity outbreak, one of several sweeping the western world as medical professionals attempt to shift blame for rocketing healthcare costs onto their customers.
Samantha Kwan of Houston Uni says that the current obesity brouhaha - with its talk of chocolate taxes etc - is nothing more than an outbreak of media-pumped mass hysteria.
According to Houston Uni:
The term obesity was constructed by the medical community, Kwan says. And the use of the Body Mass Index, which measures obesity, as the main factor to define obesity, has resulted in the media greatly overstating the rise of the condition.
"This epidemic has been constructed to the benefit of the medical industry that has in part medicalized the treatment of obesity over the years," adds the prof. "While there may be a rise in 'obesity,' the BMI is not always accurate. Some scholars describe this epidemic more as a moral panic. While there may be some truths to rising rates, they have been overstated."
Even the BBC are on side with this one, and have been saying for years that BMI statistics are about as worthwhile as (no doubt heavily taxed) chocolate teapots. The best they can say of it is that it may not be totally wrong:
The emerging research suggesting that BMI is no longer the best predictor of future health problems doesn't mean you should ignore your BMI. It still has some value as a rough screening tool.
The research in question, published in the Lancet in 2006, found that the BMI was of no significance in predicting severe health problems once other factors such as smoking were removed. Indeed, those rated "overweight" in the study actually had slightly better outcomes than those rated "normal", though not to a statistically significant extent.
Given that the idea of BMI was invented in the early nineteenth century by some random Belgian, its bearing on modern physiology would seem a little tenuous to say the least - the wealthy western human being having changed standard shape very significantly over this period, not least by gaining several inches in height.
As BMI flies in the face of basic geometry, being calculated by dividing weight by the square of height, this would naturally shift much more of the population into higher BMI values - so spuriously classifying them as "overweight" or "obese".
Human bodies not being two-dimensional, we ought to be seeing the cube of a physical dimension in there - not a square. Various more sensible systems have been suggested, but the medical profession doesn't care for them: perhaps because it wouldn't have quite such an effective stick to beat people with, and might have to actually make sick people better rather than blaming them for eating too much.
And yet we still have media fools proposing a BMI tax, and not a week goes by without some unfounded BMI-based headline.
The truth is, as Ms Kwan so ably points out, that this is just the medical profession lying to us - as it was with the infamous suggestion that booze is somehow cheaper now than it was in the 1970s, which has become another widely-absorbed "fact"*.
Even if the obesity doom-mongers are right and a BMI over 25 actually means you are unhealthy, it's totally unclear that dying expensively early on from diabetes, heart failure or whatever is a worse result for society than the alternative. The virtuous drunken lardo shuffles off this mortal coil, towards the end of working life or shortly after. His or her worldly goods, home etc pass on to someone younger who probably needs them more - to raise some kids, pay some taxes, contribute to society in general.
By contrast, the parasitical teetotal skinny lives on for decades, occupying a probably badly-needed residence and quite likely costing society more than he or she ever paid in. Then the skinny dies, again expensively, of Alzheimer's or some other disease of thin sober people. The only difference is that society had to house, feed and pay them for a much longer period.
So please, let's have no more of this idiocy. Don't let these lazy medical priests turn us against each other. Even the teetotal non-smoking thinnies reading this must be well aware that they'll come for you next, for eating the wrong kind of mung beans or having too many babies or something.
People: eat some chocolate, have a beer (maybe not both at once, yuck) and if you fall ill tell the colossally overpaid doctor to bloody sort it out rather than moaning about how you've given him an overly taxing job. ®
*This emanated from the NHS, which said booze is "70 per cent more affordable" than it was in 1980. Actually alcoholic drinks have increased in price by 367 per cent since then, where normal consumer goods have increased by only 309 per cent. The NHS still say booze is "more affordable" nonetheless because household income has also gone up, by almost sixfold.
But grog is actually lagging behind other commodities in affordability. An average product, by this measure, is a hundred per cent more affordable than in 1980.
Lewis Page's BMI says he is 'overweight', as he is 6'3" and 16 stone. If that flimsy runt Coren wants to try and attack him with a stick, it'll need to be a larger one than Coren's feeble wrists can lift.