Rob Lyons in the Yorkshire Post:
I would argue that the obesity panic is greatly exaggerated, that the “cure” for it doesn’t work, and that it usually gets promoted by politicians who have no better way to justify their existence.
For starters, obesity rates have stopped rising for adults, and are actually falling for children. The latest figures from the Health Survey for England, the best source of information we have, show that in 2009, 22.1 per cent of men were obese — compared to 24.1 per cent in 2008; for women, the new figure was 23.9 per cent, as against 24.9 per cent in 2008.
In 2004, 19.4 per cent of boys aged two to 15 were regarded as obese; in 2009, that figure was down to 16.1 per cent. The equivalent figures for girls were 18.5 per cent (2004) and 15.3 per cent (2009).
Even then, what the medical profession regards as obesity and what we commonly recognise as obesity are two different things. About one in four adults is classed as obese.
Now, think about your workmates and friends. Would you really regard a quarter of them as obese? I’ll bet few of them match up to the typical picture that accompanies every story about obesity: a morbidly obese person, whose clothes are straining to hold in their tummies. Such very overweight people only make up about two per cent of the population.
In truth, distinctions between normal weight, overweight and obesity are pretty arbitrary lines, based on something called body mass index (BMI) — that’s your weight in kilos divided the square of your height in metres. BMI is not a particularly good predictor of health, except at the extremes. Those who are mildly obese have much the same life expectancy and health outcomes as those who are normal weight. Being a little underweight is almost certainly worse for you than being mildly obese.