Recently, a report that the “childhood obesity” rate has plummeted 43% made headlines in the New York Times and elsewhere. Democrats immediately rushed to credit Michelle Obama and her anti-obesity campaign, Let’s Move. [This line in the NYT article was largely ignored: "Many scientists doubt that anti-obesity programs actually work..."] Thankfully, Paul Campos — as always — cuts through the bullshit with this piece for The New Republic: There Is No Childhood Obesity Epidemic, So Stop Applauding Michelle Obama for Reducing It. It’s a great article and I encourage you to read the whole thing, but I want to share a few highlights here.
On the news that “obesity” rates have declined, Campos writes:
This is an awkward development for obesity fear-mongers, who…have repeatedly claimed that within another generation or two the entire population of some nations, most notably the United States, would be fat.
The claim that obesity is an epidemic phenomenon, and that its prevalence was on the way to approaching 100 percent, has always been crucial to the other claims of the anti-fat industry, most notably that today’s children will have shorter lifespans than their parents, and that obesity is as great a threat to public health as global warming.
Campos explains that no one knows why the “obesity” rate has declined. He looks at previous decades and shows that the weight of the American population has gone up and down over the years for unknown reasons.
The most plausible explanation for these large oscillations can be found in the definition of “childhood obesity” itself. “Childhood obesity” is a brand-new concept, invented a few years ago for essentially political reasons. The official definition is that children who are at or above what was the ninety-fifth percentile of BMI for age in growth charts from the 1960s and 1970s are now classified as “obese.”
It is important to understand two things about this definition. First, it is quite literally arbitrary: it isn’t based on any epidemiological observation that this or that bad outcome is seen among children who are above this particular definitional cut point. Public health authorities needed a definition for their crusade against a newly invented menace, so they made one up.
Yup. They made it up. This is what happens when the pervasive hatred of a particular group of people (in this case, fat people) masquerades as science and progressive public policy.