The War on Weight


By Samantha Dunn

Published Oct 1, 2006 12:00 AM

An excess of adipose tissue. A body mass index far exceeding the norm. A weight issue. Whatever the term, it seems that Americans, mostly, are just plain fat.

So says a tsunami of statistics and research on what the Surgeon General in 2001 first called the "obesity epidemic." According to the Centers for Obesity Research and Education, which includes the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, one out of every four of us is affected by obesity. Add the merely overweight, and the Centers for Disease Control reports that almost two-thirds of Americans are carrying extra baggage.

But there's more behind all those big bellies — the "obesity epidemic" has political and sociocultural dimensions as well.

Live Fat, Die Young

What's the matter with being really fat, anyway? The answer, say more medical doctors than can possibly be quoted here, is: We'll live sickly and die young.

"If somebody weighs 300 pounds and can get to be 80 years old, that's fine, but have you seen many 80-year-olds who weigh 300 pounds?" asks Antronette Yancey M.P.H. '91, associate professor in the School of Public Health and founding co-director of UCLA's Center to Eliminate Health Disparities. "No. Why? Because they die at 50."

Zhaoping Li, assistant chief of Nutritional Medicine and Obesity at UCLA Medical Center, explains that "there is pretty firm evidence now" that fat leads to "almost all of our chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, depression, many forms of cancer, arthritis, sleep apnea, infertility...."