Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Interview with Greg Critser

I interviewed him for an article I've written for spiked last Friday. I've published the transcript here.

Essentially, my view of this book has changed quite a lot while thinking about it. At first, my main criticism of it was that there it was a bit of a 'dog's dinner'. That is, it tried to include every possible reason why obesity has been on the increase in America rather than giving a considered analysis of what was important, and what was not. To that extent, the book is all things to all men.

However, on reflection, and with a bit more research, I've realised that the 'obesity epidemic' is overstated. While there seems to be an increased risk of certain chronic diseases associated with obesity, the nature of the relationship is still not clear. For example, it is assumed that obesity causes, for example, heart disease. But perhaps a feeble heart tends to discourage people from exercising, hence causing them to be fatter on average. Or, as some researchers have pointed out, maybe the key factor is fitness. Fit, fat people have less heart disease than unfit, thin people. Maybe the determining factor is that fat people tend not to exercise.

What is clear is that obesity is a major risk factor for younger people - when they are unlikely to die, no matter how fat they are - and less so in older people, where age is a much more important factor. More importantly, life expectancy continues to rise in developed countries. In the great scheme of things, being overweight isn't that big a problem.

The only illness where the obesity-disease link strongly suggests that obesity may be the cause is type II diabetes, as far as I can tell.


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