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A rare moment of sense from the BBC

Today's Magazine carries an interesting article focusing on the role of statistics and projections in the media presentation of 'obesity' as a health and social problem. The basic thrust of the piece is that whilst recent headlines have shrieked about how the levels of 'obesity' have been on a relentlessly upward trajectory for many years and assume that this will continue indefinitely, the actual figures point to a flattening out of the rate of increase in some categories and statistically significant falls in others. In particular, it highlights that previous predictions of an obesity rate of 33% for men, 28% for women by 2010 have been way off the mark. Compare the projections on the third graph with the trends to date for an idea of the degree to which scaremongering plays a part in the latest set of predictions of a 40-50% rate by 2030.

There are a few issues with the piece. It doesn't really make the connection between the exaggeration of the figures and trends and the resultant fundamental problems with the whole concept of an 'obesity crisis', or mention the harm that the current panic is causing. It also skims over changes in the way obesity is defined, including the 1998 recalibration which mainfests itself as a noticeable jump on the graphs. And I just want to tell the shirtless fat guy in the stock photo which tops the article to buy some bigger jeans already. That said, the BBC have not only avoided the temptation to seek input from Tam Fry et al but sensibly denied the usual armchair obesity experts their opportunity to leave ignorant and off-topic comments below the piece, making it a good one to bookmark and link back to next time (and it won't be long coming) they run an open thread on a fat-related story.

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DeeLeigh's picture
September 30th, 2011 | Link | That really is a good

That really is a good article. The media seldom acknowledges that the average BMI has been fairly stable for the past ten years. I guess the "epidemic" isn't spreading. Oh. And the fat people aren't dying very fast either. So I guess that rhetoric may be just a tiny bit overblown.

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