Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Obesity as an “infectious” disease . . . serious science?

It appears that obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the US and could infect 42% of the population sometime within the next 40 years. Yes, the key word is infect. "It looks like obesity is becoming more infectious," said Alison Hill, a graduate student at the Harvard-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Division of Health Sciences and Technology, during an interview with Reuters. Uh-huh.

And, of course, they have a “scientific study” to support their prognostications, the findings of which are reported in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Computational Biology.

According to an article in Reuters, “U.S. government researchers in January said 68 percent of U.S. adults are considered overweight, having a body mass index or BMI of 25 or higher, and a third are obese, having a body mass index of 30 or higher.”

The Reuters article, by Julie Steenhuysen, notes that: “Being overweight or obese raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, arthritis and other conditions,” before going on to note that: “Obesity-related diseases account for nearly 10 percent of medical spending in the United States or an estimated $147 billion a year.”

What's that you say? It's nobody's business if some overweight junk food junkie wants to eat themselves into an early grave.

But, that's where you're wrong, friends and neighbours. What about the economic burden placed on the rest of society? That $147 billion will likely triple in size when lost productivity, caused by fatties calling in sick after eating too much the night before, is taken into account. And, weren't you just told that your fat friends could infect you with their, er . . . fat contaigon?

Did you think this was a joke?

Another scientific study, also from Harvard, reported in 2007 that if someone's friend becomes obese, that person's chances of becoming obese increase by more than half. According to Hill, the study is based on the idea that obesity can spread like an infectious disease and people can catch it from their friends. Huh? An infectious disease? Like swine flu or typhoid, maybe? And they have a scientific study to prove it?

Isn't science grand? And, I'll bet you dollars to donuts (preferably from Tim Horton's) that Ms. Hill made the infectious disease claim with a straight face.

But, this must be serious stuff. US First Lady, Michele Obama, noted at the launch of her “Let's Move”, multi-billion dollar anti-obesity campaign, in February, 2010, "The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake."

The economic health and security of the nation?

OK. I believe maybe she over-stated the case just a trifle.. But, I think the First lady was recommending school programs to encourage healthy eating and promote physical activity, thereby reducing the number of kids (”nearly one in three children in America”) thought to be overweight or obese.

However, I don't believe she intended to advance the proposition that the kids should drop their plump friends for fear of becoming infected with the “fat virus”. Unfortunately, when the fanatics start churning out their questionable scientific studies, legitimate public health concerns often take a back seat to gross exaggeration, sickening silliness and outright bullshit.

The lunatic fringe is always ready to climb aboard the bandwagon promoting the latest public health scare. They just love to tell other people how to live their lives. For their own good, of course.

Recently, San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to pass a law that prohibits giving away free toys with unhealthy meals for children. The idea is to “promote healthy eating habits while combating childhood obesity”. No more Happy Meals, lest the kids start putting on the pounds and infecting their friends and classmates.

Earlier this summer, the Center for Science in the Public Interest threatened to sue McDonald's if it didn't stop using Happy Meal toys to “lure” children into its restaurants.

A couple of weeks back, Ontario's Minister of Health Propaganda, Margaret Best, threatened to have KFC's new sandwich, the “Double Down” prohibited in Ontario because of it's high fat, high sodium content.

The Robert Wood Johnston Foundation is reducing the amount they spend on denigrating and demeaning smokers. Instead, they've committed $500 million to combatting obesity. And, they probably won't stop until the kids are hunkered down behind a dumpster, surreptitiously gorging themselves on black market Twinkies and washing them down with contraband Coca-Cola.

The pharmaceutical industry will be laughing all the way to the bank as demand grows for appetite suppressants and anti-fat vaccines in the wake of the new war on obesity.

But, if the science proves that obesity is a communicable disease . . .

Obesity may well be a legitimate public health concern. But suing fast food joints and banning happy meals is not going to resolve the problem. Neither is junk science.

Enough of the bullshit and bafflegab; time to add “scientific credibility” to the long list of oxymorons.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kids are not bothered about the toys, they just prefer the taste of a big-mac to a handful of nuts and a carrot.
By the way 3rd hand obesity is a proven scientific fact. I see my friend eating a lovely bar of chocolate and I go and buy one.