Friday, September 13, 2013

Fun Fact Friday: The Great BMI Scandal of 1998

So last week I introduced you to the history of the BMI table & its usage and left you with the cliffhanger of the Great BMI Scandal of 1998, so without further ado, let's delve into some mind-blowing controversy.

Another introduction needs to be made: The National Institutes of Health is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services and is the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and health-related research. Let me reiterate an "agency of the US government" that is "responsible for biomedical and health-related research." You would think this agency would be good stewards of health research for the good of US society, yes? Well you'd be wrong in this case...

In 1998, a so-called "expert panel" convened by the NIH decided that the current BMI chart was "too generous" and that in an effort to "inspire" the nation to be "healthier" they must shift the BMI chart rating scales down so that more people realize they are fat and therefore know that they will DIE of the evil FAT. Now of course they didn't phrase it this way and made it seem like it was all about your health using a few (flawed and sometimes bogus) studies linking weight to health outcomes. The result quantified? 29 MILLION people woke up the next day now being considered overweight when the day before they were considered to be a healthy body weight. They didn't gain a pound, they didn't eat 47 cupcakes before bed, they didn't do anything besides do normal life things and all of a sudden woke up with a giant shaming label placed upon their bodies. That's some deep shit yo.

As we know, medical advances and new knowledge occur every day. So maybe this shift was warranted based on new scientific findings? WRONG. Let's take a look at two powerful FACTS:

Fact 1:

  • The people in charge of making this shift at NIH perhaps maybe aren't your friends.
"Eight of the nine members of the National Institutes of Health task force on prevention and treatment of obesity have ties to the weight-loss industry, either as consultants to pharmaceutical companies, recipients of research money from them, or advisers to for-profit groups such as Weight Watchers."(Source)

  • SAY WHAT?!?! You mean people who stand to gain money (probably LOTS of it) from more people thinking they are fat and going to die and therefore need to do anything to lose that weight are the ones responsible for telling you that you are fat?!?  Well isn't that fucking convenient...for them! Let's give 29 million people new complexes about their bodies! YAY! They're all gonna run out and join gyms, diet programs, and diet pills and we'll be rich! And people who have nothing wrong with them will suffer.

Fact 2:
  • If this were really about HEALTH then we'd expect that to mean that people who are in the "normal" weight category to live the longest since long life = health in popular social terms. But guess what? Statistically speaking, the people who live the longest are people who measure in the "overweight" category of the BMI.
"Overall, people who were overweight but not obese were 6% less likely to die during the average study period than normal-weight people. That advantage held among both men and women, and did not appear to vary by age, smoking status, or region of the world." (Source)

  •  HOLD UP. I thought this was about health? I thought we wanted people to live long healthy lives? Now you're telling me that I can live longer if I am actually NOT following your advice to be "normal" and instead choose to be the evil "overweight?" Huh. What's a fat lady to do? Follow your "expert" advice and possibly not live to my fullest longevity or be stigmatized by the medical community and therefore the rest of society in the hopes I'll live the longest life possible? That's a fucked up choice to have to make. Now there are alllll sorts of apologists who are quick to explain why this data isn't GOOD data and why it may means all sorts of other things other than the NIH panel is a bunch of greedy liars, but I'd like to point out that the same critical eye isn't given to all the studies THEY used to convince of this farce in the first damn place. It's hypocritical and wrong and it's causing a lot of harm to a lot of people. 

Conclusion for today's Fun Fact Friday: don't believe the hype. Especially when the hype was created by people who stand to profit from you thinking there is something wrong with you when evidence to the contrary actually says something different.

Next week we'll turn this debate around and start to think about the popular belief that fat = unhealthy = health conditions. Stay tuned!

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