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Is Fat Getting A Bum Rap?

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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Everyone knows by now that fat kills you. Or does it?

Experts have warned Americans for years that being overweight or obese increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other illnesses.

Attorney Paul Campos, 44, challenges these beliefs in his book, out today, The Obesity Myth: Why America's Obsession With Weight Is Hazardous to Your Health (Gotham Books, $25).

In an argument that others believe is at best counterintuitive and at worst health heresy, Campos says the health toll of extra pounds has been greatly exaggerated. A law professor at the University of Colorado, he says ''the actual culprit for health problems associated with weight is sedentary lifestyle and poor nutritional practices, not the weight itself, except in extremely obese cases.''

He challenges the conclusions of scientists who've done large epidemiological studies linking excess weight and obesity to increased health risks. ''I don't agree with them that weight is a significant, independent health risk, and that the way to make heavier people healthier is to try to make them thinner.''

There are obese people who are fit and active, and there are thin people who are sedentary and not fit, says Campos, whose own weight has fluctuated. ''Weight is not a good measure of health,'' he says.

Paul Ernsberger, associate professor of nutrition at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, agrees in part with Campos' thesis. He says the absolute health risk of being overweight or obese ''is very small, but fat cells can secrete harmful hormones that impact heart disease.''

But several leading obesity researchers completely disagree with Campos.

''The evidence is clear that the vast majority would be better off being within the healthy weight range (body mass index less than 25) and for most people, being toward the lower end of the healthy weight range is optimal,'' says Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and author of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy.

''This is one lawyer with no experience and no medical training'' giving misleading advice that contradicts that given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Harvard and other health groups, he says.

Tom Wadden, director of the Weight and Eating Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, says the book is misguided and ''does a disservice to the public by suggesting that obesity is not a serious health problem.''

Campos contends that you can be fat and fit, but Wadden says ''the vast majority of obese individuals are not fit.''

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.


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