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The Obesity Myth: Why America's Obsession with Weight is Hazardous to Your Health Hardcover – May 3, 2004
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When an entire society is told that thinner is better and studies everywhere agree diets don't work, it's time to take a look at the assumptions behind the messages. For better or worse, this happens in Paul Campos' (Jurismania) book The Obesity Myth. Packed full of lengthy discussions of popular studies (particularly the Harvard nurses study), dense chapters run through statistics and conclusions at a breathtaking pace. Campos regularly insists on two points: BMI is basically meaningless, and a variety of media-based sources are contributing to an enormous industry that blends oversized portions with trendy, potentially harmful, diets. He grabs attention to the first claim with early assertions that by BMI standards, Brad Pitt is overweight and George Clooney is obese; more detailed discussion covers how insurance companies developed the BMI tables in their earliest forms and the federal government later tinkered with measurements in a way that accounts for much of the sudden "explosion" in obesity (yes, a BMI chart is included at the end of the book). Repeatedly, Campos rails against media stars whose main qualification is their leanness, questions medical conclusions, and demands that we look at weight as a class issue. Also highlighted is the idea of the diet industry being an extremely powerful political force, which may be at the root of the controversy; the hollering about his sources is likely to be louder than the comments about his accuracy in assessing those sources. As with any highly inflammatory topic, a single book presents only a part of the whole picture--but the myth-busting opinions offered here are an important part of the weight-based discussions. --Jill Lightner
From Publishers Weekly
Just as low-carb dieting becomes a national obsession and McDonald's begins downsizing its super-sizing, Campos, a law professor and syndicated columnist, offers a sure-to-be scandalous message: maybe fat isn't all that bad. Through solid prose, Campos builds a case against the "social institutions" that have misled the public about the dangers of being overweight. He boldly states that a cultural phenomenonsociety's hysterical fear of body fatis the real health hazard, not the over-consumption of food. Through a series of anecdotes, readers are told that the media is responsible for crushing healthy body images (particularly women's); how the dieting industry perpetuates the myth of obesity for its own gain; and how yo-yo dieting cycles have destroyed more lives than obesity ever will. Campos also says there's no real medical or scientific justification that fat is bad. "Given that Americans are enjoying longer lives and better health than ever before, the claim that four out of five of us are running serious health risks because of our weight sounds exactly like the sort of exaggeration that can produce a cultural epidemic of fear." While the studies and statistics Campos presents are convincing enough to launch a new debate about weight, some of his conclusions border on the absurd (e.g., he blames "Fat Politics" for the impeachment of President Clinton). And so begins the anti-fat backlash.
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Top Customer Reviews
The author makes some good points that I agree with. Namely, that the problem is not obesity per se but that obesity is an indicator of unhealthy patterns of eating and sedentary behavior. The truth is, epidimeiological studies on chronic illness like heart disease and diabetes do not account for lifestyle patterns, and the few that have indicate that it's better to be fat and fit than skinny and sedentary. Many obesity researchers treat weight as its own independent risk factor when they should be more worried abou the underlying behaviors that often lead to overweight. The author's argument isn't that we should all eat what we want and park our butts on the couch. It's that weight loss for most people is a pipe dream and we should focus on nutrition and fitness behaviors as the ultimate goal rather than a means to an end. This makes a lot of sense to me.
That said, the science in this book is pretty thin. The first third addresses the issue by talking about a few specific studies, but mostly the argument is made with broad brush strokes and incomplete presentation of the evidence. Then it starts to read like a social justice manifesto. I think it's obvious fat people are discriminated against, but the author goes so far as to compare fat suits in films to historical black indignities such as minstrel shows. Last I checked, fat people as a group were never enslaved, beaten and raped for being fat. By overstating the case, he loses me. Then, in the political section, he goes into this long diatribe that basically implies the Bill Clinton/Lewinsky scandal would have never happened if we didn't live in a society obsessed with weight. Huh? Then he basically states that all Americans have an anorexic mentality. I think by framing is argument in this way he diminishes the very real problem of anorexia nervosa.
So the book is basically a mixed bag of science, cultural critique and politics, but not really in any organized way, and frankly this guy seems a little unhinged to me. I'm glad I read it, but I don't think I would reccomend it to anyone.
The sad thing is that, in the 8 years since its publication, this analysis has not had a larger impact--and we are still, as we have been for 50 years, operating under the same model, one that defines "fat deviancy" down and that attributes health disorders to "fat" that have not been demonstrated by scientific, epidemiological studies. As Campos suggests, this misdirected effort may, more than anything else, be responsible for making Americans "fat." Deny a people something as essential as food for a half a century, and it is no surprise that you have a whole population that, each group in various ways, is dysfunctional in respect to food.
I also admire Campos for his staunch support of fat as a woman's issue. Unfortunately, the pressures he describes are increasingly migrating to men. He is also fearless in his resistance to the financial incentives that are served by the transformation of "obesity" into an epidemic.
This is such an important book. I wish he would update and reissue it.
Campos is also quite funny. I wake up in the middle of the night a lot and read, and I had trouble several times not laughing and waking up my husband. My one complaint is that he is pretty repetitive; he makes his points over and over and over and I want to say I GET it already. Other than that, great book. Wish idiots with big viewing audiences like Dr. Oz would have on people like this. Or that other idiot Dr. Phil. Instead of having shows where he tells people not to bully fat people, and then proceeds to tell the fat people how to lose weight, have Campos on to reveal that thinness is all about looks (which is fine, but let's be honest about it and not pretend it's for health).
Most Recent Customer Reviews
There isn't anyone out there with any intelligence that doesn't understand that BMI charts are averages for populations and have...Read more