Obesity, as a medical issue, is complicated. We’re still figuring out why it happens in the first place, but that doesn’t stop governments from trying to pass “fat taxes” and for hand-wringing headlines:
But chill just a sec. That’s not quite what’s being said, and none of this is a done deal.
- The headlines about obesity are a projection based on past data: If you actually look at the study everyone’s freaking out about, it’s actually a simulation trying to project the future scope and scale of obesity in America. It’s based on five past comprehensive studies about obesity, and, leaving aside the panicked headlines for a moment, it’s not great news:
Given the current level of childhood obesity, the models predicted that a majority of today’s children (57.3%; 95% uncertainly interval [UI], 55.2 to 60.0) will be obese at the age of 35 years, and roughly half of the projected prevalence will occur during childhood.
Basically, if current trends hold more than half of American kids will become obese when they’re children and stay that way.
- But current trends never hold: The key problem here is the assumption that what’s current medical science and practice, not to mention American lifestyle habits, are going to stay the same. But those can change, and they can catch everyone by surprise. As consumers have learned more about sugary drinks, for example, they’ve started laying off the soda. In 1965, doctors were bracing for a lung cancer epidemic, since 40% of American smoked; instead they stubbed out the butts for good in droves.
- And medical science is still struggling to figure out the exact role of obesity in health: Don’t get us wrong, doctors are right that eating bacon donuts morning noon and night while never moving from in front of the computer is a terrible idea. But the role of your weight in medicine is much more complex than just “You’re fat and that’s bad.” Even marathon runners aren’t as healthy as people think.
- Even our definition of obesity is terrible: Always remember, BMI was invented by a guy who wasn’t even a doctor at a time when “being a doctor” meant “Here, eat this and let’s see what happens.” In fact, BMI is a terrible way to determine heart attack risk: You should be using the “waist-to-height” ratio instead.
So, the short of it? Yes, right now, we’re getting beefier as a country. But these trends never hold, and our beefiness may not necessarily be bad as long as we’re eating healthily and getting in exercise every day. Yes, American kids need to eat right and exercise. But they should also be taught that your health isn’t strictly based on how skinny you are.