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Fat Politics: The Real Story behind America's Obesity Epidemic 1st Edition

23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195169362
ISBN-10: 0195169360
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It's not obesity, but the panic over obesity, that's the real health problem, argues this scintillating contrarian study of the evergreen subject of American gluttony and sloth. Political scientist Oliver condemns what he feels is a self-interested "public health establishment"-obesity researchers seeking federal funding, pharmaceutical and weight-loss companies peddling diet drugs and regimens, bariatric surgeons and other health-care providers angling for insurance reimbursement-for spuriously characterizing fatness as a disease. He debunks the dubious science and alarmist PR that fuels their campaign, taking on arbitrary Body-Mass Index standards that slot even Michael Jordan in the overweight category, state-by-state maps of obesity rates that make fatness look like a contagion spreading over the countryside, and flimsy research studies that vastly exaggerate the danger and costs of weight gain. Oliver also examines American attitudes towards obesity, probing the abhorrence of fatness implicit in the Protestant ethic and, less plausibly, tying our contemporary feminine ideal of the emaciated supermodel to a confluence of sociobiology and the economics of the urban sexual marketplace. Arguing that fatness is perfectly compatible with fitness, he contends that scapegoating obesity drives Americans to experiment with dangerous crash diets, appetite suppressants and weight-loss surgeries, while distracting us from underlying harmful changes in the American lifestyle-mainly our incessant snacking on junk food and shunning of exercise and physical activity, of which weight gain is perhaps merely a "benign symptom." Oliver provides a lucid, engaging critique of obesity research and a shrewd analysis of the socioeconomic and cultural forces behind it. The result is a compelling challenge to the conventional wisdom about our bulging waistlines. Photos.
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"Fat Politics skewers the conventional wisdom on obesity. Beautifully written and exhaustively researched, it is impossible to read this book without having your view of fat forever changed. I absolutely loved this book."--Steven D. Levitt, Professor of Economics, University of Chicago; author of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

"It's not obesity, but the panic over obesity, that's the real health problem, argues this scintillating contrarian study of the evergreen subject of American gluttony and sloth.... Oliver provides a lucid, engaging critique of obesity research and a shrewd analysis of the socioeconomic and cultural forces behind it. The result is a compelling challenge to the conventional wisdom about our bulging waistlines."--Publishers Weekly

"Fat Politics is one of those rare books that manages to turn all your conventional ideas and easy assumptions on their heads, while somehow maintaining a probing, reasonable, and entertaining tone. Anyone who holds strong opinions--professional or personal--about American's obesity epidemic is going to have to grapple with this book." --Stephen Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter

"A damning indictment of a culture awash in the paradox of too much choice, the shame of too much consumption, and the fear of a moral vacuum.... In one well-argued, boldly titled chapter after another, Oliver advances his view that we have made fatness 'a scapegoat for all our ills' and explores how we harm ourselves by doing so."--Daphne Merkin, Elle Magazine


"In Fat Politics, Eric Oliver examines America's ongoing search for weapons of body mass destruction and reveals that the emperors of the current fat hysteria aren't wearing any clothes. This is an essential book for understanding the leading moral panic of our time."--Paul Campos, Professor of Law, University of Colorado, and author of The Diet Myth: Why America's Obsession with Weight is Hazardous to Your Health

"Eric Oliver's book debunks almost every conventional theory that causally relates obesity to diseases and early death. It will infuriate countless obesity researchers, weight-loss doctors, and the food, diet, and pharmaceutical industries. Whether or not you agree with all of his critiques, one thing is indisputable: the entire field badly needs a good shakeup."--Jerome P. Kassirer, M.D., Editor-in-Chief Emeritus, New England Journal of Medicine, and author of On The Take: How Medicine's Complicity with Big Business Can Endanger Your Health


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (November 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195169360
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195169362
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #833,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By A Fan on November 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book and unlike the guy below, I'm not selling a diet plan. In fact, the only people I can see not liking this book are people trying to sell weight loss products. For the rest of us, Oliver's book is a very readable and really fascinating explanation for how weight gain has come to be called an "obesity epidemic" (and how they are different).

The book systematically goes through the evidence (but in a highly readable way) about how the idea of obesity came to be defined and how the idea that obesity was a disease became popularized (largely from a small group of weight loss doctors, diet hucksters, and bureaucrats).

Not only does he reveal the people who have been behind the scenes and promoting the idea that America's weight gain is an epidemic disease, he goes beyond this and describes why we hate fat people, why white women are expected to be thin, and most interesting why Americans are gaining weight and what this weight gain means.

Some interesting things that I learned from this book were 1) ceteris paribus, white women are twice as likely to be told be their doctor that they are overweight; 2) taxing junk food is only likely to make people eat worse; 3) the main reason why Americans gaining weight is not from super-size meals but from snacking; 4) the biggest source of the obesity epidemic is a powerpoint presentation; 5) the origins of the idea of obesity came from an astronomer.

I was not surprised to see that Steve Levitt, author of Freakonomics, said he "loved" this book on the back cover. Its the same kind of interesting and counterintuitive logic.
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60 of 64 people found the following review helpful By P. Lozar on April 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a book that should be read by everyone with a "weight problem." Oliver does a terrific job of showing how the so-called obesity epidemic has little to do with genuine health concerns. Instead, not surprisingly, it's all about money: drug manufacturers who finance "obesity institutes" that hype the dangers of overweight to sell diet drugs; diet and exercise companies with a vested interest in convincing people that their excess pounds are hazardous to their health; bariatric surgeons who want your insurance money; researchers who find that focusing on the dangers of obesity greatly improves their chances of getting grant money and publishing their findings.

Oliver isn't saying that it's OK to weigh 400 lbs; instead, he points out that (except in the most extreme cases) the dangers of overweight and the benefits of losing weight are greatly exaggerated -- in fact, trying to lose weight can be more harmful to one's health than staying fat, and very thin people are often far less healthy than fat people. Numerous studies (which he cites in detail) have disproved the conventional wisdom, but these are routinely ignored or misinterpreted. He also points out that the main reason that the incidence of obesity has increased in America is not that Americans have gained a lot of weight, but rather that the threshold for classifying someone as "obese" has been lowered (duh!).

Oliver's most noteworthy point, I think, is this: excess weight is not the problem, it's a symptom. The real culprits in "weight-linked" diseases aren't the pounds themselves, but the behaviors and conditions associated with them.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Dr. R. Bogle on January 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Pretty much everyone presumes that being fat is bad. It is one of those basic presumptions that is safe from debate, like the presumption that smoking is bad (which it is). But in this provocative and fascinating book, Professor Eric Oliver closely examines the facts behind our presumptions about weight and turns up a many inconsistencies. Oliver lays out the chronology of how modest weight gain on the average American coincided with an increasingly shrill alarm about an unfolding "obesity epidemic" and he explores a number of connections between Big Pharma and the NIH that raise questions about the fundamental elements of our national obsession about weight. He debunks a series of well established myths and puts forth a novel theory in the media hysteria over weight: That being overweight is not necessarily bad.

But most enjoyable aspect of the book is how readable it is. This is no slog through dry statistics about our weight and health. Nor is it a finger wagging polemic whose substance is obvious from the first pages. "Fat Politics" is a lively, even gripping read as Oliver takes us on a tour through the cultural history of weight and the relationship between modern capitalism and weight gain. Readers of "Freakonomics" or "The Tipping Point" will find here a similar irreverence for conventional wisdom and compelling set of contrary arguments. Even if you don't agree with every one, "Fat Politics" will leave you with a new way of thinking about the debate and a heightened skepticism about the received wisdom on the topic.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Joyce M. Koppenheffer on July 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be very informative and at last see that someone beside me feels that fat is being blamed on everything. Being a middle aged woman, though, I can attest to what the extra pounds have done to my knees, hips and ankles. I have spent my entire life, though, trying to not make myself a victim, but with discrimination being what it is, rude people being who they are, and being the butt of stares and comments, even though I have spent my entire life fighting fat, it is hard not to be the victim, here. I hope that a few doctors and a lot of men read this book. I hate being fat and fear dying early, but this book made me start to reason out that maybe I was not meant to be a thin person. I have had an echo gram, exercise stress test, and I pay regular visits to my Dr. The tests show I am in the lower third of the population to die of heart related illness. I try and take better care of my health, knowing that I am fat, and I think I am more conscientous than many thin people.
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