Well, I'm encouraged to hear I might be wrong. It seems this is a common myth, and that other well-off countries have similar weight profiles, as explained by Paul Campos in a TCS interview (I keep reading TCS for exactly this kind of myth-busting material though many articles are more boring). I wish the article provided links supporting the claims, because there were a few quite interesting tidbits from the article:
- The CDC had previously estimated 400,000 deaths from obesity in 2004 but has recently had to revise that figure significantly downward (following CDC links, I see the surgeon general now says an "estimated 300,000 deaths[/year] may be attributable to obesity").
- The classification of "overweight" in children is defined as the heaviest 15% of children for a particular age cohort. That would mean nearly a million children are labelled overweight because they're defined that way. According to that methodology, 15% of children in a third-world, famine-wracked country would also be overweight. I can't find evidence at CDC of this methodology but there was a study showing that 16% of teens had been found to be overweight [*].
- There's no strong evidence that Type 2 diabetes -- one of the diseases justifying the labeling of obesity as an epidemic -- has increased, let alone having increased due to weight factors.
- The governor of Arkansas has written legislation proposing that body weight index be part of kids' report cards. If I were in Arkansas I would write him personally to indicate my disgust at such misguided and potentially harmful interference in the family.
One nasty statistic I picked up myself from the surgeon general's note is that "Overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults". Yikes, oh no! But combine that with the claim that 60% of adults are overweight or obese, and a sensible person will see that so-called overweight adolescents would have only a slightly higher (if measurable) tendency than non-overweight adolescents to become overweight adults. Sigh.