The Spread of Obesity
Posted by Colin Rose on July 16, 2008
The Framingham study is a very detailed picture of the population of a small town in Massachusetts. Below is a series of diagrams showing the relationships between people and their BMI status from a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine. It is the first really detailed picture of the start of the obesity pandemic. Green circles are BMI less than 30 and yellow circles BMI greater than 30, the official definition of obese. The authors were interested in the “transmission” of obesity between friends and relatives but never advanced an hypothesis for what would have initiated the epidemic and what might have fueled it.
In 1975 there was not a single obese person. From 1980 to 1985, the era of the cholesterol-lowering resins, like Questran, the first obese people appear. The LRC-CPPT results were published in 1984. By 1990 after the introduction of statins the incidence of obesity accelerates until by 2003 more than a third of the population is obese. There is no other plausible explanation for this phenomenon. People stopped caring about controlling calorie intake in the belief that lowering blood cholesterol with resins or statins would save them from the well-known consequences of gluttony. This attitude spread in families and between friends in the classical pattern of a transmissible virus or bacterial infection. It was OK to eat anything and to be obese if everyone else was and you took your pills.
If there is a better explanation for the obesity pandemic, we would like to hear it. None of the usual suspects, fast food, cars, suburbs, television, computers, the Internet, dangerous neighborhoods, etc. explain why people just eat too many calories and don’t care enough to control consumption.
See our photo essay on food addiction for a graphical demonstration of the obesity pandemic.