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The Obesity Myth: Why America's Obsession with Weight is Hazardous to Your Health Hardcover – May 3, 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 phenomenon—society's hysterical fear of body fat—is 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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham; First Edition edition (May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592400663
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592400669
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #380,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mr. Joe TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"From the perspective of a profit-maximizing medical and pharmaceutical industry, then, the ideal disease would be one that never killed those who suffered from it, that could not be treated effectively, and that doctors and their patients would nevertheless insist on treating anyway. Luckily for it, the American health-care industry has discovered (or rather invented) just such a disease. It's called 'obesity'."

In THE OBESITY MYTH, author/law professor Paul Campos makes an erudite and scathing case against the American diet industry, which, with its paid-lackey researchers and gullible fellow travelers in the medical and government health establishments, directly and simplistically links obesity with disease and generally compromised health. Rather, Campos concludes that the evidence shows that:

1. It's more dangerous to be underweight than overweight.

2. Health is not improved by long-term weight reduction.

3. Health is adversely affected by the yo-yo pattern of weight loss and subsequent regain experienced by serial dieters.

4. The nebulous connection between weight and health disappears when other factors are considered, e.g. the individual's cardiovascular and metabolic fitness. An overweight fit person is better off than a thin sedentary person.

Rather than being a monotonous, 250-page diatribe against the Fat Police, Campos goes out on a limb in a couple of chapters to make some novel observations.
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In the process of reading this book, I'm struck at how amusing the response is from Michael Fumento and his friends/alter-egos posting here. Every point they raise to "refute" Campos is specifically addressed in the first chapters of the book. Campos carefully addresses the flaws in these arguements and backs up his assertions with a straight-forward presentation of the facts behind the accusations of fat bashers. Nothing Fumento and his ilk have brought up addresses any of the criticisms Campos levels on their arguement, leading me to the conclusion that not a one of them has opened this book. They are just offering the same knee-jerk hyperbolic condemnation fat bashers always offer when anyone questions their highly unfounded attacks on fat. Campos has provided the public with a valuable study of the issues surrounding weight and health. It may not be what you're used to hearing, but don't make the mistake some have made by damning the book without examining its arguement.
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Format: Hardcover
I was very interested in the science Campos presented, but completely turned off when he resorted to personal attacks against particular people -- which unfortunately took up most of the book. It doesn't exactly scream "balanced" or "unbiased." Even some of his science was less than completely balanced, in my opinion. I've done enough reading on diabetes to know that the rise in the disease is not imaginary, as Campos claims -- for instance, a change in the diagnostic criteria some years ago does not explain the 3% per year rise in diagnoses since then. And there is a well-studied correlation between diabetes and obesity, despite what Campos says. Now, that is not to say that being overweight causes diabetes. Diabetes (or prediabetes) may cause weight gain rather than vice versa, or they may both be caused by something else entirely, such as poor nutrition. But to deny any correlation (correlation does not mean causation) between overweight and diabetes, and to deny the steady rise of the disease, seems like it would require either poor research or blinders -- just what Campos accuses others of.

That's just one small point, but it made me question Campos' perspective, and the rest of his science. The book contains a lot of valuable information, and I only wish it had been presented in a way that didn't strike me as one-sided and, well, just a little pissy. The shame of it all is I think Campos is absolutely right in his basic premise. Unfortunately he falls prey to the exact sort of "us vs. them" thinking he says he dislikes about "infotainment" TV, and his message is tainted by it. I wish I could recommend the book to friends, but I can't. It's worth the read if only for the science and the point of view, especially if you've never heard the premise before.
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Format: Hardcover
...in order to save myself from a young lifetime of futile (and probably dangerous) dieting. And I wish every 12-year-old (and their parents and teachers and siblings) could read it now, for the same reason.
The level of hysteria out there about "obesity" these days rivals that of the Salem witch hunts 400-some years ago. Campos counters that hysteria by doing something most mainstream media outlets don't dare even attempt: he actually reviews the data from the studies on which those dire predictions of weight-based mortality are allegedly based. In doing so, he discovers -- much to his shock -- that in the vast majority of cases, the "conclusions" drawn by both researchers and media don't jibe with the numbers, and instead are heavily influenced by popular prejudice against fat (not to mention the desire for diet and pharmaceutical-industry research and ad dollars).
An example from the book concerns that infamous study published in the New England Journal of Medicine about a year ago that reported that fat people were far more likely than thin people to die of cancer, which was reported by many media outlets as evidence of "Americans eating themselves to death." Yet as Campos points out, according to this survey's actual data, that people with body-mass indices in the "overweight" 25-29.9 range occupied by most "fat" Americans actually had lower cancer death rates than those in the "ideal" BMI range of 18.5-24.9; that even among the most "obese," the increase amounted to nothing more than one to two extra cancer deaths per 1000 people; and most tellingly of all, that even the "morbidly obese" women in this study had lower cancer death rates than the "ideal weight" men! (In an amusing aside to the latter, Campos chides: "It seems unlikely that this typical statistic...
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