Thursday, June 02, 2005

A few months ago, my parents got some sort of free magazine dealie for donating money to something, and as a result, I have a subscription to both Time and Newsweek. I know we're supposed to hate Newsweek for being anti-American, or defend them for being sort-of-right, but my hangups about Newsweek are much simpler. Both Time and Newsweek are really, really stupid. It's all celebrities, Jesus, and personal health stories. The most surprising thing about the whole Koran controversy is that Newsweek was reporting something that might actually qualify as news.

So anyway, recently both Time and Newsweek have discussed the whole question of whether fat people can be healthy or are miserable and doomed. The results are predictably brainless.

So here's a letter to the editor of Time from Dr. Amir Mehran, who is identified as being from the UCLA department of surgery, but who does not say that he specializes in weight-loss surgery.

In "Is It O.K. To Be Pudgy?" [May 9], you reported that a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that people who are overweight but not obese are at no greater risk of dying prematurely than those of normal weight. You also reported the views of the food industry-sponsored group Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), which says there is no obesity probelm and it is all hype. The American public does not need the CDC, the CCF or anybody else to tell them what to think. Just spend a few weekends observing the crowds at amusement parks, the local zoo, or other popular spots. The obesity problem is glaring. If you don't believe your own eyes, ask foreigners visiting our country what they notice most about us.

Ok, let me get this straight. This guy makes his living providing surgery to correct a problem. Recent research has called into question whether the problem is really medically significant. And he's asking us to ignore science and instead trust our "eyes," which is to say our own socially-conditioned revulsion at the sight of fat people? Isn't that a little... anti-science. And isn't there a bit of a conflict of interest there?

Ah, but that's not all. This week's Newsweek is a special issue about fitness. (No worries that people in Afghanistan will riot about that, I guess.) There's a lovely article called "Can you be Fat and Healthy?" Here's how it starts:

By most measures, Kelly Bliss, 50, surely seems to have let herself go. The Landsdowne, Pa., resident stands 5'2'' in. in her stockings but tips the scales at nearly 200 lbs. Run those numbers through the body mass index (BMI)-- the statistical measure that factors height and weight to diagnose obesity-- and Bliss scores higher than 35. Anything above 25 is overweight, anythign above 30 is obese. In the nation's ongoing war with obesity-related health problems, Bliss is one more casualty, right?

Well, there's a positive note on which to start the story. The thing is, it's not correct to say that by most measures, she's "let herself go." (What's up with that formulation, by the way?) There's really only one measure that says she has a problem: the BMI. As the article goes on to explain, by every other measure, she's super healthy. And going by Dr. Mehran's very scientific "observing the crowds at amusement parks" test, the photo of Bliss reveals that she looks great.

Now, I know that one effective way to start an article is to set up a proposition and then knock it down. But honestly, this seems to reinforce the very proposition that the article seeks to argue against.

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