New JAMA Study confirms Professor Campos' Controversial Thesis

April 25, 2005

A major new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) confirms the contrarian thesis put forth in Professor Paul Campos’ book The Diet Myth: Why American's Obsession with Weight is Hazardous to Your Health (formerly The Obesity Myth). The Diet Myth analyzes hundreds of medical studies and concludes that being what the government defines as “overweight” is not a medical risk, and is in fact optimal for a large percentage of the population. The book also argues that the risks associated with higher than average weight have been systematically exaggerated by a public health establishment that has been captured by the nation’s $50 billion per year weight loss industry, and that dieting and weight obsession makes Americans both fatter and less healthy than they would otherwise be. The new JAMA study finds that, in the year 2000, so-called “overweight” people had the lowest risk for premature death, and that indeed the risk of premature death among Americans labeled “overweight” and “obese” by the government was lower than among Americans who were not “overweight” and “obese.” The study reduces the number of premature deaths associated with overweight and obesity from an earlier figure of 400,000 (a figure that The Diet Myth argued was deeply flawed and could not possibly be correct, given the available data) to 25,000. The data from the new study underlines the central contention of Professor Campos’ book: that the so-called “overweight” category, which contains most Americans who the government claims weigh “too much,” is scientifically baseless and socially destructive, and should be abandoned immediately. "Given that Americans are enjoying longer lives and better health than ever before, the claim that four out of five of us are running serious health risks because of our weight sounds exactly like the sort of exaggeration that can produce a cultural epidemic of fear," Campos argues. “The data from the new JAMA study doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know,” Campos says. “It merely confirms what the medical literature suggests, when viewed in an objective way by researchers who aren’t funded by the weight loss industry.” Campos criticizes Centers for Disease Control Director Julie Gerberding in the wake of this new study. “Dr. Gerberding has spent much of the last year arguing that weight loss should be America’s #1 health care priority, and that federal funding for health care should reflect this supposed reality,” Campos says. “She made these arguments on the basis of a paper she co-authored, which overestimated the actual number of deaths associated with overweight and obesity by a factor of 14. This represents an egregious failure of public health policy, for which she should take responsibility.”