Thursday, July 30, 2009

The War on a Healthy Diet and Regular Exercise

I'm not going to spend much time on Megan McCardle's interview of the author of The Obesity Myth, Paul Campos, as I'm not involved in obesity research and generally agree the "Obesity Epidemic" concept is overblown. However, there is a statement in the interview that absolutely needs to be addressed, less it cause some real confusion:
I mean, there's no better established empirical proposition in medical science that we don't know how to make people thinner. But apparently this proposition is too disturbing to consider, even though it's about as well established as that cigarettes cause lung cancer. So all these proposals about improving public health by making people thinner are completely crazy.

Emphasis mine. I hate semantic arguments as much as the next guy, but here is an instance where clarity and precision of language makes a big difference in how a statement is interpreted. I believe the operative phrase in the highlighted sentence to keep it from being absolute nonsense is "make people". What I suspect he is trying to say is something to the effect of "no public policy has been shown to reduce obesity"... which I suppose is a fair, though debatable, statement on the efficacy of various public health policies.

However, I don't suspect many readers of the interview would come away with my interpretation his statement. It sure sounds a lot like he's saying that it's well established that diet and exercise "don't work".

Rest assured that you're not wasting your time counting calories or going to the gym to work out. The ability of diet and exercise to cause weight loss are beyond question. Whether or not a "soda tax" will make the kid down the street lose weight is another question entirely, and I think Paul Campos has a responsibility to make the distinction clear.