[lit-ideas] Re: Fat Is An American Imperialist Issue

  • From: andy amago <aamago@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx, lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 6 May 2004 06:06:28 -0700 (PDT)

-----Original Message-----
From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: May 6, 2004 6:05 AM
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Fat Is An American Imperialist Issue

 --- andy amago <aamago@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote: > The NIH I believe recently
came out with a statistic that obesity is the
> leading cause of death in this country, surpassing even lung cancer from
> smoking, which heretofore had been the leader.=20

But trotting out this kind of authoritatively-sourced "fact" is exactly the
kind of thing the article disparages. By repetition it might seem to gain
currency, but is it supported by the data?

A.A.  What article?  You say below "read it".  I don't know what you are re=
ferring to.

Donal:  If you read it, you may recall this paragraph from the article:

"Annual Deaths Attributable To Obesity In The United States, which appeared
in the Journal Of The American Medical Association (Jama) in 1999, is the
source for the endlessly repeated statistic that overweight causes around
300,000 extra deaths in the US every year. (This "fact" has been cited in t=
major media more than 1,700 times in the past two years alone.) Look at the=
figures more closely. As Glenn Gaesser, a professor at the University of
Virginia points out, studies have consistently failed to find any correlati=
between increasing BMI and higher mortality in people 65 and over, and 78% =
the approximately 2.3 million annual deaths in the US occur among people wh=
are at least 65. Thus, 78% of all deaths lack even the beginning of a
statistical link with BMI. "That leaves 500,000 annual deaths in persons
under 65 that might be related to BMI," Gaesser told me. "These include
deaths from every possible cause: motor vehicle and other accidents,
homicides, suicides, cigarettes, alcohol, microbial agents, toxic agents,
drug abuse, etc, etc. To think that 60% [ie, 300,000] of these deaths are d=
to body fat is absolutely preposterous.""=20

A.A.  JAMA may have published this study, but who funded it?  Was it the fo=
od industry?  To paraphrase more statistics, McDonalds I believe alone spen=
ds something $90million dollars per year advertising their products, while =
the government (USDA?) has something like $5million for their yearly budget=
.  Industry is *very* heavily invested in promoting their products, whateve=
r the products are.  The salt industry is still claiming that salt is not d=
amaging except to those sensitive to it, when in fact salt and high blood p=
ressure correlate nearly one to one around the world.  It took decades of b=
attle with the cigarette industry to get them to admit that cigarettes are =
damaging to health.  Industry does what they have to do to sell their produ=
cts, including telling you what you want to hear, which is eat away, it doe=
sn't matter.  Philosophically it doesn't matter, since we're all going to d=
ie no matter what we eat, but physiologically, it makes a big difference.

Regarding my authority, I've seen it in many places, but I quote now from M=
ichael Jacobson's (Executive Director for Center for Science in the Public =
Interest) editorial in the May 2004 issue of in their publication "Last Mar=
ch, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - a unit of HHS - report=
ed that in 2000 poor diet and physical inactivity caused about 400,000 prem=
ature deaths in the United States, up from 300,000 a decade earlier."  My b=
ad in that I said the NIH.  Perhaps JAMA should take it up with the CDC, wh=
ose job is tracking who dies from what and where.  Or perhaps they shouldn'=
t, since the private sector influencing the public sector is a potential di=

>The physiological pathway
> behind the problem seems to be that fat irritates tissues (including bloo=
> vessels), which causes an inflammatory immune response, which in turn
> causes the damage and premature death. =20

Donal:  Really? Who says this? I can see that excess weight might put a str=
ain on
other organs (the heart), and clog up arteries, but is this really the true
etiology of "fat=3Dincreased death risk"?

A.A.  The February 28, 2004 issue of Science News.  Reading from the subscr=
iption page, Call 1-800-552-4412 (presumably in the U.S.) or visit www.scie=
ncenews.org which, BTW, I have never visited.  I get the hard copy each wee=
k.  The good news is that by learning what the pathway of destruction is, s=
cience may eventually find a way to block it.   In other words, there may c=
ome a day when we can eat our cake and have it too.  That day is not here y=

>Inflammation has also been co-opted
> by the those who exploit buzzwords and turn them into profitable books, n=
> always based on fact. =20

Well yes: not adequately "based" on fact.

>Nevertheless, the real thing is real. =20

Here you slip, it seems to me, from the pressing factual issues into a piec=
of Parmenidean metaphysics or perhaps Wittgensteinian tautologising - I can=
be sure which.

A.A.  Again, philosophically it's fine.  But the body is a biochemical mach=
ine.  We can't do anything we want to a machine and expect it to work as de=

>One might
> argue that since we're all going to die anyway, buying a few extra years
> with the coin of significantly diminished pleasure is less than a good
> deal.

One might. But as the article implies the link between so-called overweight
and illness-and-death seems 'not proven' on a close look. (Remember George
Clooney is "obese" by the standards used).=20

A.A.  I'll keep that in mind, although I have not heard it.  While we're on=
 the subject, calorie restricted laboratory mice and primates increase thei=
r longevity by something like a third of their life span, a huge amount, so=
mething like 30-50 years human time, and are also physiologically significa=
ntly younger than normally fed lab animals (normally fed, not overweight). =
 But by calorie restriction they mean calorie restriction, as in being hung=
ry all the time.  It used to be thought that calorie restriction had to beg=
in early in life, but now it's thought that it may have some benefits in te=
rms of longevity even when started later in life (mouse to human equivalent=
 of, I believe 60 or so years).  It's postulated that since we evolved in s=
carcity, scarcity is what we optimally function in.  The dietary affluence =
we live in today is a biological anomaly, both in quantity and quality.  Th=
e claim that George Clooney is obese as opposed to being overweight may be =
apocryphal.  However, perhaps he has gained weight recently? Mel Gibson loo=
ks heavier I noticed, although certainly not obese.  On the other hand, obe=
sity is defined as 20% or more of body weight, or 26 or higher BMI, so, by =
those standards, it might be true.=20

Donal:  Commonsense tells me that humongous overweight is not good for the =
but this is not the standard being used.=20

A.A.  Wrong.  See above.

Donal:  There is the question also of whether calorie-controlled diets work=
. Ans. No.

A.A.  Wrong again.  See above.

Donal:  And whether such diets cause overweight and damage health: ans. ver=
y likely
on both counts.=20

A.A.  I think you meant to say very unlikely?  But, your Freudian slip is c=
orrect.  Essentially, the food we eat today is not the food we were designe=
d to eat.  It's like putting diesel in a gasoline car, and a lot of it.

Donal:  So I am rather more sceptical of the fat-death link than you might =
be on the
basis of having heard something from the NIH. (Didn't they tell us until th=
1970s that homosexuality was a psychological affliction, backed up in this
idiocy by a Freudian-hangover in the psychiatric profession?)

A.A.  Again, I meant to say CDC.  Regarding homosexuality in the 1970's, I =
recently heard a discussion on CNN I think it was, regarding the upcoming G=
ay Days at Disneyworld.  Being straight myself and never particularly inter=
ested in homosexuality (live and let live I say), I was rather surprised to=
 learn that among the other activities these guy indulge in is wearing skir=
ts with no underwear.  Skirts with no underwear?  I'm no gorilla, but that =
kind of made me wonder where Freud is when you need him.



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