Arnold Kling

Fattening the Obesity Statistics

Arnold Kling, Great Questions of Economics
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According to a food industry spokesman, obesity has been redefined more than it has increased.

In 1998, the U.S. Government changed the standards by which body mass index is measured. As a result, close to 30 million Americans were shifted from a government-approved weight to the overweight and obese category, without gaining an ounce, Burrita said.

William Quick adds this analysis:

According to an American Medical Association report, 14.5 % of Americans in 1980 were obese, a total of 32,700,000 (based on a population of 226,000,000). If, as the above article states, the numbers of obese Americans have "doubled" in the past twenty years, this would mean there are now about 66 million of them. But thirty million of those fatties were created by a change in definition, so by the standards of 1980 [we would calculate an] obesity percentage of 12.85 percent, an actual decrease in obesity percentage since 1980.

Discussion Question. Obesity remains a health issue, even if it is not increasing. However, if obesity is not increasing, does that reduce its salience as a public policy issue?

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