Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Mighty Pen

One thing I want to do here is to post a bunch of my correspondences with people I've written to on topics relating to fat. I'm going to start with an email I sent to the owner of a very interesting website, It's really a good resource if you are concerned about trans fats, which are really gross and bad for you. But I got a little peeved because the site provides all this information that seems well-documented and researched, and then it has a link to a BMI calculator. BMI is about the dumbest measure of someone's health I can think of. This is the thing where you divide your weight by your height to see if you're overweight. You might as well divide your penis length by your shoe size. So I sent the following email: (click below to continue)


"I've just perused your web page with great interest. I think you are doing the public a great service by publicizing the dangers of trans fats and showing people how to avoid them. However, I think you send the wrong message when it comes to the topic of weight. First of all, you include a link to the CDC's BMI calculator. BMI is a notoriously inadequate measure of a person's fitness, as should be obvious when one considers that the only inputs to the formula are height and weight. Surely you must know people of the same height and weight who are nonetheless very different in their body composition and/or fitness? It has recently been revealed that from the standpoint of the BMI calculator, the actor Brad Pitt is considered 'overweight', and George Clooney is 'obese'. What does this say about the measure? I encourage you to consider removing the link to the BMI calculator from your site.

"Furthermore, while it's clear that America is getting fatter and likely that this correlates with a decline in diet and activity levels, let's be a little more discerning when making generalizations. First of all, it is not at all clear that obesity 'causes' diabetes as you assert. See Paul Campos' book The Obesity Myth (which ought to be cited along with the other two books you mention) on this point. Many studies which supposedly show that obesity 'causes' other health problems are funded by the diet industry! The rise in obesity is correlated with increases in some health problems like heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes, but this does not mean they are *caused* by obesity. All of these things are caused, in many people, by sedentism and poor diet. But this also does not mean that anyone who is 'obese' or has any of these health problems is sedentary and has a poor diet! So let's just be careful with the generalizations.

I take this issue rather personally because I am an 'obese' woman who eats a healthy diet and excercises regularly. In fact, I am a distance runner. I am convinced that I am much healthier and will live longer than my thin friend who never exercises and eats 100 grams of fat every day on the Atkins diet. Those scientific studies that have not been tainted by the assumption that obesity causes disease (and those that have not been flat-out paid for by the diet industry!) bear out my assertion: lifestyle is far more important than body weight when it comes to overall health.

"Keep up the good work, and please do consider changing up the 'Obesity map' section of your web page to avoid giving people wrong ideas. It's a nuanced issue, but I think that people who take the time to go to your web page are capable of seeing things in terms that aren't always black and white."

I got a nice reply from the CEO of, Stephen Joseph. Here's what it said:


"Your e-mail is very interesting. I reviewed the CDC website and there are lots of warnings that BMI is not the whole story. However, I believe that you are right so we have added the following words:

"(Note: The BMI Index is very general and does not take into account factors other than height and weight.)

"Thanks for your very constructive input."

So that was that. A pretty good result, I thought. Could have been better. In a future post I'll talk more about the CDC and their BMI indicator and post an email that I sent to them.

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