Its always fun to watch the class smart-aleck get egg on his face. Especially, if its a high-calorie fried egg with maple syrup dripping off it. It's therefore no surprise to see a number of bloggers (e.g., Dr. Sanity) gleefully note the backpedaling of the CDC in its anti-obesity efforts. The CDC has recently acknowledged that their numbers linking obesity and premature death were grossly mis-stated and that being overweight was "associated with a slight reduction in mortality relative to the normal weight category."
So the message we are supposed to take home between our big mac buns is that the scientists, as always, have got it wrong once again. Fat is good. Skinny bad. Or translated into more abstract economic terms: the privileged elites are virtuous; the poor are boneheads. This is, of course, good news for me. I like to eat just as much as my conservative brethren.
Even so, I have a hard time believing that these revised numbers really represent a revelation. There is, after all, a helluva lot of good science that shows a connection between obesity and a number of diseases. Diabetes and heart disease are good examples. And I'm not so sure that someone's ability to survive their youth or middle age necessarily means they are healthy.
And if we turn from examining early death and look at longevity, the revised numbers seem pretty meaningless. The best way discovered so far to prolong one's life is to have good living habits (not smoking, etc.) and to eat an extremely limited diet. (We're talking about a calorie intake that most Americans probably consume during a single meal.) Studies on rats show that this significantly extends the animals' life spans. Evidence (albeit largely anecdotal) from people who have adopted this diet show that the diet also works for human beings. Dietary traditions from around the world also support this. One of the most common themes of Asian dietary health regimes is an extremely sparse diet (in Korean, soshik).
So what's behind the sudden media blitz claiming that fat is where it's at? If we look into the matter, we find (surprise, surprise) that the pro-fat stories have actually been backed by the U.S. food and restaurant industries! The recent full-page ads in major U.S. newspapers were paid for by the Center for Consumer Freedom, which is predominantly funded by restaurant chains. The group recently spent about $600,000 on ads, which appeared in the New York Times, WaPo, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA Today and the Chicago Tribune.
Ad campaigns may influence the Fox crowd, but they won't alter basic human physiology. The CDC spokesman Tom Skinner continues to insist (rightly) that the CDC was not wrong in its earlier opinion regarding the general dangers of obesity. Skinner has pointed out that it is a "well-known fact that obesity is also contributing to other well-known leading causes of death including cancer and diabetes."