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Is the obesity epidemic exaggerated? Yes

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 31 January 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:244
  1. Patrick Basham, professor1,
  2. John Luik, senior fellow2
  1. 1Johns Hopkins University, 1717 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC 20036, USA
  2. 2Democracy Institute, London EC1V 4PY
  1. Correspondence to: P Basham patrickbasham{at}

    The UK health secretary declared last week that we are in the grip of an obesity epidemic. Patrick Basham and John Luik believe that the problem is less clear cut, but R W Jeffery and N E Sherwood say that obesity is a growing global problem

    The claims, both in the media and in professional publications, about an epidemic, its causes, consequences, and cure often exceed the scientific evidence and mistakenly suggest an unjustified degree of certainty. The fact that cases are “clearly above normal expectancy” anchors the concept of an epidemic. In this respect, describing obesity as an epidemic is subject to two difficulties.

    Definition of normal

    Firstly, it is difficult to determine normal expectancy. Much of the data on overweight and obesity are limited, equivocal, and compromised in terms of extent and the reliability of the measurements and the populations sampled. In the US, for example, data about population weights date from only 1960. Several pieces of evidence, however, suggest that the contemporary situation may be close to, rather than in excess of, normal.

    The earliest national survey shows …

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