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What's Behind New Findings That It's Healthy to Be Overweight?

With so much profit to be made from keeping people overweight, the public is not hearing the truth about obesity.

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By focusing on weight instead of healthy habits, one is pushed toward the wrong goals. Brand-name diet foods are not always healthy, and extreme starvation diets never are. At the same time, weight-as-a-measure-of-health sends a signal to “normal” weight Americans that they are doing everything right and don’t need to change. But healthy diets, regular exercise, good sleep habits, and stress reduction are good for everyone, no matter their weight.

Additionally, the stigmatization overweight people face is 100 percent destructive. In addition to the stress and feelings of shame it engenders, it even drives some people to avoid going to the doctor. Burgard reports that patients tell her they avoid going to the doctor for as long as possible – skipping routine physicals and gynecological visits – because they don’t want a lecture about their weight.

She has strong words for the weight loss industry -- which she calls the “weight cycling industry” -- saying, “That's what happens and that's the way they make money.” While some people who lose weight do keep it off, she says they are as rare as people who win the lottery. “OK, they exist,” she says, “But if I'm a health care provider, if I know that 98% of the people I send down this road will end up sicker, physically and psychologically, why would I do that?”

Burgard continues, “If you look at the last year, you look at the number of African American and male spokespeople for these companies – there's an explosion of marketing to these communities now – and what we're seeing in the eating disorder community is that the number of boys with body image concerns are going up and up and younger and younger kids are having these concerns. So the eating disorder world and the obesity treatment world are really at odds.”

After several months trying to lose weight or keep weight off and failing, many end up in Burgard’s office. “We see people who are in dire straits for one reason or another. We see the fallout. We have to speak up because the people who treat obesity have such terrible followup and they blame their patients or their customers for the interventions not working, which is completely unfair and wrong. And they need to understand the suffering that they are causing.”

In other words, the new study with not-so-new conclusions does not mean that you can kick back and eat as much junk as your belly can hold – but it does mean we should question the national obsession with losing weight. It also means we should question the motives of the “experts,” whether they are having their bread buttered by the weight loss and pharmaceutical industries or they are working on behalf of junk food companies.

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of "Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It."

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