Add this to the long list of things we once knew but now know we don’t know.
CHICAGO — Being overweight is nowhere near as big a killer as the government thought, ranking No. 7 instead of No. 2 among the nation’s leading preventable causes of death, according to a startling new calculation from the CDC.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated today that packing on too many pounds accounts for 25,814 deaths a year in the United States. As recently as January, the CDC came up with an estimate 14 times higher: 365,000 deaths. [From 365K to 25K in just 3 months -ed]…
Based on the new calculation, excess weight would drop from the second leading cause of preventable death, after smoking, to seventh. It would fall behind car crashes and guns on the list of killers.
Calculating the health effects of obesity has been a major source of controversy at the CDC.
Last year, the CDC issued a study that said being overweight causes 400,000 deaths a year and would soon overtake tobacco as the top U.S. killer. After scientists inside and outside the agency questioned the figure, the CDC admitted making a calculation error and lowered its estimate three months ago to 365,000.
400,000 — 365,000 — 25,000 — All within one year.
Why doesn’t the CDC quit throwing darts at the dart board and issue a press release that says: “We’re pretty sure being overweight is bad for you, but we’re not real sure how bad for you.” That would be the most accurate statement they’ve made in 12 months.
Of course, far be it from me to suggest that science might not have all the answers we thought it had just 6 months ago.
And I loved this line:
…because of the uncertainty in calculating the health effects of being overweight, the CDC is not going to use the brand-new figure of 25,814 in its public awareness campaigns
Considering the number is no more valid than one I could create off the top of my head, I’m thinking that might not be a bad idea. The CDC does do some good and important work, but more and more I find I have to keep reminding myself of that.