Is it irresponsible to call obesity an "epidemic"?

I’m no expert, but being morbidly obese to me means that you’re too fat to feed yourself, or you can’t fit into a normal car, etc. And being “overweight” is far exagerated in society. My friend (who is a 5’9 175 pound man) qualifies as borderline “fat” on the BMI scale. I take fat to mean obese here, so my friend, who is not fat by any means, he actually weight trains and isn’t even amazing at it. His max bench is only 200 or so, but he looks quite buff (which is just his low body fat % showing his muscle properly).

If such a scale is so easily decieved by someone who works out 3 hours a week and eats properly, why is it taken as meaningful in any way? I’m of course assuming that the BMI is the basis for all of the “fat-mongering” people out there claiming obesity as an epidemic. I’m no “fat-ass” by any means, according to the BMI I’m underweight (5’8 135 pounds) which I disagree with a whole lot. I was very much underweight when I was 115 pounds, but no way at 135.

The statistic-huggers grip to the fact that “50%” of high school students are overweight. I’m sorry but I have to call BS on that “statistic”. I graduated this year from a pretty average high school up in Canada (2200 students or so, very wide array of course options) so not a rich one, or a poor one. There is no way anyone could convince me half of the students were overweight. Maybe 20-30% at the most, and that seems high to me. Being the curious person I am, I tried to guess as to how many people were “fat” in my classes, and there were maybe 1-2 per class of 30 or so (that is by no means an accurate sample size, of course).

I assert that people are blowing obesity out of proportion to the actual problem it is (which is eye pollution, hardly a worthy cause to fight really, unless it’s a littered park or something, but I digress) because they want to either sell their “method” of losing weight (any sensible dietician will tell you that you eat smaller portions of healthier food and exercise a few days per week, and if that doesn’t lose your weight, you’re either cheating or screwed) or caught up on the bandwagon.

I see you’re from Canada.

Tell me, have you ever visited the great state of Louisiana?

I don’t think it is. People love to point out BMI’s flaws, but guess what, everyone knows about those flaws. There are tests other than BMI, such as body fat percentage; BMI just happens to be really easy to calculate. By combining multiple tests, it’s not hard to tell whether someone is fat or just pumps a lot of iron.

It’s not that there are more obese people; they just look like more. :wink:

Also from Canada. And I have visited Louisiana.

I wouldn’t call it irresponsible to label obesity as epidemic. The whole basis of an epidemic is something that appears with frequency in a population increasing faster than expected. I doubt the trends are being skewed by fit people who fool the BMI scale. Of course, I have no cite for such. They might be. But I doubt it.

For a comparable anecdote, I don’t remember any large kids in my classes growing up. Now, however, every time I see a group of kids, one or two of them will be pretty big.

“Epidemic” is, however, becoming a silly buzzword that gets people excited about something.

I agree with you to a certain extent, but I think that some people need to get excited about it. There are some who simply don’t see obesity as being a problem.

I once knew a couple through a friend of mine who thought it was funny to fatten their toddler. They thought he looked cute as a “little butterball” and taught him horrible eating habits. The parents insisted that it was no big deal, just “baby fat” and even their pediatritian’s warnings were shrugged aside. “Little Butterball” is now, of course, a fat kid and will most likely be a fat adult.

“Smoking=cancer” worked for a lot of people because cancer is a very scary word and a lot of the advertising hinted that it was not just a possibility, but an actual inevitablity. Diabetes and clogged arteries simply don’t strike as much fear into people’s hearts. They seem like distant possibilites which might happen but even if they do, it’s not as “serious” as the Big C.

In my area, a part of the obesity problem stems from religious beliefs. There are several large denominations in my area who believe that almost every recreational activity is sinful and women are limited by modesty rules as to what exercises they can do. The only accepted social gatherings are banquets and I’ve never seen one which featured healthy foods.

Secondly, a lot of people really just don’t know how to eat properly. When their parents gave them vegetables, they were poured from a can and ony eaten after a bout of whining. They’re busy-- they don’t think they have time to prepare healthy foods and if they did, they’d have to fight with their kids to eat them. Some people don’t even know how to prepare healthy foods even if they did want to and they’re disinterested in learning. It’s just easier to order a pizza.

I recently heard a comedian do a bit on this. It was along the lines of:

You kids don’t know what it was like in my day. I lived through the obesity epidemic at the start of the century. It was horrible - there was food everywhere, massive servings, junk food galore and all we could do was eat, eat, eat.

I dislike the term “epidemic” as applied to things such as smoking, overeating, obesity, etc. Epidemic implies a disease agent, which is spread by contact. Quite frankly, obesity is none of those things. You become obese via consuming more food than your body can utilize. Now, are people obese? probably yes, the incidenc of obesity has been rising, and it is mostly due to too much food and too litle physical exercise. I’m afraid that the legal industry is about to seize on obesity as an issue, and that we are about to be deluged in lawsuits, on behalf of people who are obese. But, is obesity spread like malaria? No way-it is spread by ignorance.

Obesity? It’s a frypandemic.

I think the problem is a bit overstated, too. The BMI index puts me right on the line for overweight. I wear a size 4. I am pretty strong, but no body builder. I don’t live in the 'States right now, but when I did it was in Arkansas (not exactly a mecca for health nuts). Sure, there were lots of people who’s bodies weren’t perfect, but very few, really, who were very fat (Maybe one in fifty?).

When I look at old pictures of pinup models or even just regular people from 50 years ago, they were much heavier than the models now. I still wouldn’t call them overweight, but I bet they would be on the BMI. If people aren’t in perfect physical condition, we call them overweight. I find this pretty annoying, personally. Being ten or fifteen pounds over your “look-perfect” weight is not going to kill you.

Again, the BMI (“I” is for “index”) is just one test of many. Has a doctor actually told you you’re overweight?

Good god! Where the hell is this and why hasn’t the US invaded it and deposed its’ rulers?

Let me ask a similar question, I don’t think it is an epidemic in the typical sense because quite frankly it doesn’t affect me. I’m not fat, and I don’t have any problems having sex with fat people (well, none stemming from their weight ayway), fat isn’t contagious, so why should I care?

I mean, yes, I live in Canada so I will be affected through the national healthcare system, but let’s leave that out of the discussion for the moment.

While I don’t disagree with ralph124c’s reasoning, it’s hard not to regard obesity as an epidemic when looking at the data over time. The CDC has a powerpoint slide show with prevalence rates by state from 1985 to 2004. It’s quite shocking to me to see the continued increases over time, and the need to keep adding new categories of prevalence as time goes on.

No, but it does seem like a good deal of the data about how fat Americans are comes from the BMI. The stats don’t cross-check with other methods of measuring fatness. The site Hector linked to uses only BMI. I just think that there is a pretty significant margin of error in that test, and that “obesity” is defined below where it probably should be. Where they draw the line for obese, I would just say people are a bit overweight. On Hector’s site, they say that, in Arkansas, over 25% of the population is obese. If that’s true, they are defining obesity too stringently–I just moved from there 5 months ago, and no way were a quarter of people extremely fat. 25% probably needed to loose a few pounds, but not to the point where it was really serious. I am not a doctor or a research scientist, so maybe I should keep my mouth shut, but I just don’t see carrying around an extra 20 lbs or so above your perfect weight as being obese.

Basically, I am agreeing with the OP. I don’t think if you just took a random 1000 people from the US and asked a panel of judges if they were obese, you would get anywhere near the numbers you get from the stats.

I would also like to add that weight is not the only measure of health. I eat lots of fruits and veggies, lean meat, almost no candy or fast food, etc. If I gain ten pounds from having a few extra pieces of garlic bread or whatever, that puts me well into the overweight section of the BMI. I guarantee you that I will still be healthier than the bulimic cheerleader who’s weight is ‘healthy’. I think we should be focused more on improving diet and general health than loosing weight, which will of course follow.

Hey, I am from Louisiana. If I raise you Indiana and call the hand will you take it back or admit it is at least a good kind of party fat.

Wasn’t there a study a few months ago that gave the very unexpected and unwelcome result that being moderately overweight has health benefits including significantly increased longevity over those with a lower BMW?

I remember that too, but can’t find it quickly and don’t feel like really looking for it.
I think the same study said that people with cholesterol rates that were middle-of-the road survived quite a bit longer than those who had high or low cholesterol.

No, I absolutely agree that people should be getting excited about obesity. Er… I mean, getting excited about fighting obesity. I just don’t really like the way the word “epidemic” is tossed around. It seems that after a word or phrase reaches the status of buzzword, it rides the peak for a while and then starts to lose all appreciable meaning.

Fascinating thread.

“CDC data over 20 years? Bah, my personal observations were that there is no way they are right! Instead, people just need to ‘loose’ a few pounds.”

“Yeah, and wasn’t there this one study one time that said there are health benefits to being overweight?”

“Yeah, I think I remember that too!”

Perhaps this thread belongs in another forum.

Regarding the bolded claim, I have a few cites that I’ll be able to dig up later today.

IIRC, some very large studies showed that the BMI that was best for longevity was 25 to 27. (Of course, healthy BMI is defined as 20 to 25 and “overweight” starts above 25). It was very interesting.