Defending the Demonization of Obesity – Part 2

DrRich | August 26th, 2010 - 7:49 am


Fighting the Obesity Paradox With A New Obesity Creed

In Part I of this important and insightful meditation, we saw the many reasons why it is so critically important for anyone who supports Obamacare to stand foursquare behind the demonization of the obese.

But unfortunately, the vitally important anti-obesity platform of Obamacare is under assault. The fat-is-bad firmament – created by the concentrated exertions of the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health, the fashion and beauty industries, sundry weight-loss conglomerates, the popular media, and countless other engines of public opinion – is threatened by a growing body of evidence, created by a few misguided scientists, which suggests that obesity may not be quite as bad a thing as we are all led to believe. Like an expanding pool of molten rock hidden just beneath an apparently placid landscape, this expanding evidence poses a threat to the anti-obesity movement, and therefore to Obamacare. It must be dealt with.

And we need to deal with this threat now, while it is still relatively hidden, and before it bursts through to the surface where it would do much damage. Fortunately – in contrast to an actual volcano – we have the tools to tamp the threat down before it becomes manifest.

Before DrRich explains how this can be accomplished, let us take a brief look at some of that counterproductive evidence itself, to illustrate the seriousness of the problem. The evidence that not all obesity is bad for the health, when one begins to look for it, is disturbingly broad and consistent. DrRich will not attempt a comprehensive review of that evidence here, but instead will offer a brief and selective survey, just enough to impart a sense of the threat we are dealing with:

1) We must begin by noting that a substantial part of the “obesity epidemic” that has become manifest over the past decade can be accounted for by a change in the definition of obesity. When the CDC changed that definition in 1997, as many as 30 million Americans who had been of normal weight suddenly found themselves to be obese, or at least overweight, and all without gaining a pound. Enemies of the anti-obesity movement will not be above exploiting this inconvenient truth to their own ends.

2) In 2002, a report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology examined almost 10,000 consecutive patients who had angioplasty and/or stenting for coronary artery disease, and found that those who were overweight or obese had fewer complications and a lower 1-year mortality than those who were thin or of normal weight. Several more recent studies claim to have shown the same thing.

3) A 2007 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that overweight people who were physically fit had a lower risk of death than normal-weight people who were sedentary.

4) A 2007 report by the National Bureau of Economic Research noted that while Americans were growing fatter, other changes in health behavior (such as reduced smoking and better management of cholesterol and hypertension) more than offset any increase in health risk posed by the population’s increase in obesity.

5) In 2009, a meta-analysis in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology concluded that while obesity itself increases the risk of heart disease, obese people who develop that heart disease have significantly better survival than thin or normal-weight people who develop the same kind of heart disease.

Some cardiologists have already termed this growing line of evidence, i.e., the general observation that at least in some situations obese cardiac patients fare better than thin ones, as “The Obesity Paradox.” Anyone who understands the importance of the anti-obesity movement to Obamacare should be alarmed.

Just on the face of it, we can see that while such evidence could easily be painted by our enemies as “a little fat is OK,” the opposite is actually true. As we all know, the chief aim of healthcare reform (despite all the palaver about providing universal access and improving quality) is to reduce costs. So what could be worse than a condition like obesity, which a) increases the incidence of heart disease, but b) once heart disease develops, prevents an early (and relatively inexpensive) demise. The actual incidence of a disease, of course, is pretty neutral to our goal of reducing healthcare costs. What is important is the expense and duration of the disease once it develops. (Indeed, to reduce long-term healthcare costs, a very prevalent disease that kills very quickly would be just about ideal.) Since few medical conditions are more expensive to manage chronically than heart disease, the best thing for our healthcare system and our society would be for those who develop heart disease to just go ahead and make a rapid departure from the scene. So in this light, what this recent evidence shows is that obesity – because it increases the incidence of non-fatal (i.e., chronic) heart disease – is much worse than we believed.

Beyond these obvious cost implications of the “Obesity Paradox” (the general idea that obesity may not be as dangerous as we have thought), is the much deeper problem that any new science that undermines the anti-obesity movement threatens to undermine a major pillar of Obamacare. DrRich described this important aspect of the anti-obesity movement at length in his prior post, but to summarize: Successful anathematization of the obese will establish an important precedent that is needed by our central authorities as they set out to restrict, control and tax the human behaviors they decide may cause an increase in healthcare expenditures (which is to say, nearly all other human behaviors). While establishing this precedent would certainly be possible with some group other than the obese, so much effort and time has been invested in dehumanizing fat people that it would be more than a shame to have to abandon that huge investment, and start all over to demonize some other subset of our population.

Thus, what is needed is a means of suppressing a more general awareness of the Obesity Paradox. It is fortunate, therefore, that we have at hand a very serviceable model for achieving this end.

That model, as DrRich has pointed out, is Man-Made Global Warming. By the simple expediency of issuing a formal declaration that Man-Made Global Warming is real and is too important to argue about, all further debate over global warming (whether it is occurring, and more importantly, whether it is man-made) has been cut off; those who persist in challenging it have been decreed as outliers, heretics and kooks. To so effectively stifle further scientific scrutiny, a great council of hand-picked environmental scientists was assembled to review the body of admitted evidence on global warming, and to formally divide that evidence into orthodoxy and heresy, and to declare the era of scientific revelation on the matter to be ended, and the science settled.  And while the extensive document that council produced itself contains much that would make one question the actual magnitude of global warming, and especially whether it is actually man-made, the Executive Summary (a sort of catechism produced for general consumption by the Global Warming hierarchy) nicely provides us with what we really need to know, and accordingly is the only part of the document that is ever reported or discussed publicly or in polite company. In this manner, and with the full cooperation of the media, Man-Made Global Warming has been rendered a done deal.

DrRich merely points out that if further scientific exposition and debate of global warming can be officially cut off, apparently (and remarkably) with the blessing of the scientists themselves, then the same can certainly be accomplished with obesity.

It would be a simple matter to assemble another great, Council-of-Nicaea-like body of respected and unassailable experts on obesity and preventive medicine – from government, academia, sympathetic consumer groups, and the numerous industries whose success depends on the existence of lots of fat people desperately wanting to lose weight – to ruminate over all the evidence, and produce their own sacred document declaring, once and for all, that obesity is very, very bad (and so is anyone who says otherwise); and further, that it is morally wrong to waste any more time or money studying whether obesity is a health hazard, and hereafter the only permissible research will be aimed at studying how to prevent and treat it.

That should do it.

Selling such an Obesity Creed should be even easier than selling global warming. Fat people, unlike the ostensibly rising seas and melting ice caps, are all around us, and are readily visible to everyone. Many times each day our encounters with them will induce real and visceral reactions – our pity over their personal health plights, our disgust over their manifest inability to exhibit any self control whatsoever, and our indignation that their obvious gluttony and sloth is costing us so much money. Obesity as a threat to humanity will be a much more concrete, much less abstract, tool for focusing a general righteous anger than global warming can ever be.

So how to combat the growing problem of the Obesity Paradox is not the issue – we can combat it by promulgating an Obesity Creed. The issue is to recognize that there is indeed a threat to the anti-obesity movement, that the threat comes in the form of an expanding body of scientific evidence, and that time is of the essence. If we are to have the Obamacare our leaders visualize for us, we need to recognize the threat and deal with it now, while it is still in its early stages, and before it enters the general public consciousness.

DrRich is very pleased to have been able to assist in this matter, and at this critical juncture, to help eliminate a grave threat to Obamacare. But heck, that’s what DrRich is here for.

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