HAES book: BMI & Politics

In her book Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight (reviewed here) Linda Bacon recalls her days as a PhD candidate. This was also when the BMI standards were lowered, and, coincidently enough, her mentor, Judy Stern, was a member of the NIH Obesity Task Force.* 

When I expressed my surprise of the standards being lowered, she encouraged me, as an academic exercise, to conduct a review and make recommendations as if I were sitting in her place on the task force. 

A careful review confirmed my suspicions.  There was significant evidence in support of raising the standards, not lowering them.  I presented my review to my mentor, who laughed and congratulated me on my insightful analysis.  

I asked the obvous question of why the Obesity Task Force recommended lowering the standards in the absence of supporting data.  I paraphrase her response: “We were pressured to make the standards conform to those already accepted by the World Health Organization.”

In other words, this decision was made for political reasons, not because it was supported by science or for the betterment of public health. 

Bacon further notes that the WHO report that helped define 25 as the BMI boundary between “normal” and “overweight” was largely the work of the International Obesity Task Force, which is largely funded by the makers of Xenical and Meridia.

*According to the Washington Post, Judy Stern was the only member of the panel to vote against lowering the standards. 

7 thoughts on “HAES book: BMI & Politics

  1. Why does this not surprise me? It’s been a money thing all along. Company A has a product to sell, but it’s not making enough money off it, so let’s just create more customers by changing the parameters of who needs to use it. By changing those parameters, we can create an artificial epidemic, propagate hysteria, and our sales will increase exponentially.
    It’s not about health, it’s never been about health. It’s been about the almighty dollar all along, and the media has colluded with them by pushing the extremes of thinness as some kind of “beauty” standard to be met.
    The thing is, eventually people figure out you’re lying to them and quit listening. Then when you do have something of value and that’s true, they don’t believe you (cry wolf too many times, and when the wolf is at the door……well, we all know that one).

  2. I love your blog. :-)

    Also, this book sounds really amazing; I’m going to have to read it. I’m not surprised this is politically driven as well. The idea that people would change standards to conform rather than for reasons actually backed up by scientific evidence is appalling (and as I’m one of the millions of Americans with a BMI between 25 and 27 it’s personal for me, too). It also works to erode trust between citizens and government agency (not that there’s always a whole lotta love there in the first place…), which creates all sorts of problems. Argh.

  3. I’m really amazed that they lowered the BMI index considering the original figures were set in like the 1800’s. Given all the changes in medical care since then – were talking over 150 years – we’re simply a bigger evolution of people.

    I hate this brainwashing to convince people being big is a sin. Seriously, what do we gain from glorifying a sliver of the population and expending so much energy on crucifying everyone who doesn’t meet that unattainable standard. It makes my teeth ache. The worst thing is that I still buy into it.

    Love you blog by the way. Just awesome.

  4. OMG, I had no idea the BMI standard had been lowered in the last ten years.

    Bummer, too, because I’m at 25.5– almost “normal” now. Whatever that is supposed to mean.

  5. Pingback: A year or two ago … | Living ~400lbs

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