After an article in a leading medical journal reported last week that people who are overweight, but not obese, have a lower risk of death than normal-size and skinny people, it might seem that pleasingly plump could finally become the socially accepted norm. But even the Centers for Disease Control, whose researchers helped conduct the journal study, continue to say that fighting fat remains a top public health priority.
And some social critics and medical researchers say that because there are so many groups with an entrenched interest in crusading against fat it is unlikely that the obesity epidemic will be declared over anytime soon.
"The operative term is moral panic," said Dr. Sander Gilman, a professor of liberal arts and science at Emory University. "There are moments when certain things become the focus of the society because they are believed to be a danger to the society. And it is believed that if you focus on it you will be able to avoid it or cure it."
No one disputes that obesity poses health risks that include diabetes, heart disease and sleep apnea. But based on the recently published research, those whose weight put them at a moderately greater risk of death turn out to be a narrowly defined group: people under age 70 with a body mass index of 35 or above. That group constitutes less than 16 percent of the population. (A person 5 feet six inches who weighs at least 217 pounds would fall into that category.)
None of this should be particularly surprising. There's been a lot of loose talk about an "epidemic." This article is walk-back from the edge of hysteria.