Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Childhood obesity: the deconstruction

Over at the Rocky Mountain News, Paul Campos has posted a brilliant response to some of the hyped-up points made in the Washington Post's current (and ridiculously overblown) series on childhood obesity--and issued a challenge. A $10,000 challenge, to be exact, to the lead author of the 2005 study that predicts a two-to-five-year drop in life expectancy "unless aggressive action manages to reverse obesity rates."

Campos rebuts some of the war-on-childhood-obesity's usual points with elegance and clarity. For instance, to put some of the current hyperbole in context, he points out, "Ever since public health records began to be compiled in America in the mid-19th century, the following statement has always been true: Today's children are both larger and healthier, on average, than those of a generation ago."

One of the most commonly repeated predictions by fervent generals in the war on childhood obesity is that because children are fatter today, their lives will be shorter. What could possibly strike more fear into a parent's heart? I think this prediction is at the heart of the current hype, and clearly Campos agrees, because his challenge to the author of the 2005 study involves a more thorough examination of the data:

If, at any decennial census going forward, obesity rates have risen or remained the same, and life expectancy in America has declined, I'll pay [the author] $10,000. If we don't get any thinner but life expectancy has risen, he'll pay me the same sum.

I look forward to Round 2.

6 comments:

AnnieMcPhee said...

One thing that's been bothering me, Harriet, and I wondered if you had more information on it, is that they keep saying that they are seeing children all the time now with high blood pressure, diabetes and oh...I can't remember the other biggie, but one of those things they always attribute to fat. Like there's this sudden skyrocketing of kids with high blood pressure and diabetes, all because of the weight. Where are all these sick kids? How come all I ever hear of is how kids are fat and are at risk for those things, but I never see reports on ACTUAL kids coming down with high BP left and right? Yet they keep insisting that it's happening. Has anyone laid this one to rest yet? Have those numbers really gone up or is it like Campos said, they're bigger and overall healthier? (As I would tend to believe.)

Meowser said...

Annie, I'll tell you where all those sick kids are. They are in the inner cities. Poor kids, especially African-American kids, are the ones who are being diagnosed with hypertension and type 2 diabetes; partially this is because they have more of a genetic tendency to develop both illnesses, but more germanely it is because their stress levels are off the charts because of the constant threat of violence, their health care is a bad joke, their quality-food access is an even worse joke, and there is no safe place for the kids to run around and play.

But they are lumping in more affluent children with poorer ones when discussing kids' health, because then they can sell it as a Huge!Globalized!Catastrophe!, instead of a problem that belongs to a very specific population. Follow the money. Always follow the money. No money in helping out the poor, you know.

AnnieMcPhee said...

Thank you! That has been bothering me for a long time, and was going to keep bugging me. So there's just no profit in telling the truth about the children who are getting high BP and all the other things that are allegedly caused by the fatz. Sick. It's a sick world that thinks of things in such a fashion.

marcella said...

You might be interested in this British GP (family doctor)'s take on this http://geepeemum.wordpress.com/2008/05/20/food-1/

Harriet said...

Thanks for the info, Meowser. This would have been my guess.

I think I hate the Washington Post.

WifeMomChocoholic said...

I see fat kids daily in my library (in a suburb) and I have to confess that I feel sorry for them. They can't keep up with the other kids when we jump around at storytime, and some of them don't fit into the computer chairs.

I don't know if we have a childhood obesity epidemic or not, but I see a lot more overweight kids now than I did 15 years ago. Do you think it's some sort of evolutinary thing?