Americans' recent weight gains have been widely described as an "obesity epidemic." Such a characterization, however, has many problems: the average American weight gain has been relatively low (eight to 12 pounds over the last 20 years), and the causal linkages between adiposity, morbidity, and mortality are unclear. Nevertheless, the media and numerous health officials continue to sound dire warnings that obesity has become an epidemic disease. In this article, I examine how and why America's growing weight became an "obesity epidemic." I find the disease characterization has less to do with the health consequences of excess weight and more with the various financial and political incentives of the weight loss industry, medical profession, and public health bureaucracy. This epidemic image was also assisted by the method of displaying information about weight gain with maps in PowerPoint slides. Such characterizations, I argue, are problematic. Given the inconclusive scientific evidence and the absence of a safe and effective weight loss regimen, calling America's growing weight an epidemic disease is likely to cause more harm than good.


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pp. 611-627
Launched on MUSE
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