Fat is deadly. Obesity-related illnesses will kill around 400,000 Americans this year--almost the same as smoking. (p. 13)Spurlock comes back to the "400,000" figure, and the "second leading cause of death" idea several times in the book. Both are wrong.
Last April, the CDC released a report confirming what critics of the obesity hysteria have been saying for some time -- that 400,000 figure (revised from a similar 300,000 figure a decade ago) is a gross overestimation. The real number is closer to 100,000. And if you add in the lives saved by the protective effects of mild overweight, the number is closer to 25,000. Meaning that:
(A) The number Spurlock quotes here is off by a factor of fifteen.
(B) Those statistics about how many Americans are "overweight" by government standards don't mean a damned thing. Overweight is actually healthier than what the government says is the "ideal" weight. And overweight is much healthier than what the government calls "underweight."
Predictably, bureaucratic politics and turf wars are now at play. The CDC has been slow to embrace the new study, despite the fact that the agency commissioned it. The reason? The CDC's director was a co-author of the old study. There's some evidence now that the old study's flaws were known before it was ever released, but power politics trumped objections raised by other researchers during the peer-review process.
The New York Times, Forbes, Batimore Sun, USA Today, Rocky Mountain News, and Des Moines Register, among others, all slammed the CDC for letting politics trump good science. Several editorial boards and pundits (including yours truly) called on CDC director Julie Gerberding to resign.
In any case, these developments are a fine example of why it isn't wise to take every health scare pushed by the government at face value. When a study comes out that was funded by Philip Morris, people tend to read it with a good deal of skepticism. Perhaps that's appropriate. But perhaps it's time we looked at government studies the same way. They're plagued by the same biases, motivations, and slants that plague any privately-funded health research.
The new study came out about a month before Spurlock's book was published. So perhaps we should cut him some slack. My guess is that the book was already in printing when the new study came out. I'll look for a correction in the paperback edition.
On the other hand, it wasn't hard to find critics of the 400,000 study. if Spurlock had been the slightest bit curious about opposing viewpoints, he would have found enough criticism of the 400,000 number to at least have acknowledged in his book that the number isn't without its detractors. In fact, the CDC itself lowered figure to 365,000 early last year in response to many of those critics. That correction took place long enough ago that Spurlock has no excuse for going with the higher, 400,000 figure.