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See Inside June 2005

Obesity: An Overblown Epidemic?

A growing number of dissenting researchers accuse government and medical authorities--as well as the media--of misleading the public about the health consequences of rising body weights

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Could it be that excess fat is not, by itself, a serious health risk for the vast majority of people who are overweight or obese--categories that in the U.S. include about six of every 10 adults? Is it possible that urging the overweight or mildly obese to cut calories and lose weight may actually do more harm than good?

Such notions defy conventional wisdom that excess adiposity kills more than 300,000 Americans a year and that the gradual fattening of nations since the 1980s presages coming epidemics of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and a host of other medical consequences. Indeed, just this past March the New England Journal of Medicine presented a "Special Report," by S. Jay Olshansky, David B. Allison and others that seemed to confirm such fears. The authors asserted that because of the obesity epidemic, "the steady rise in life expectancy during the past two centuries may soon come to an end." Articles about the special report by the New York Times, the Washington Post and many other news outlets emphasized its forecast that obesity may shave up to five years off average life spans in coming decades.

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