The Obesity Myth. Why America's obsession with weight is hazardous to your health.


Paul Campos


2004 Gotham Books, Penguin Group New York, NY.

This book should bear the further subtitle, How I lost my battle with paranoid schizophrenia.

Paul Campos is a lawyer. (How does he get to publish a book about obesity?) He is well read. He quotes Flaubert p70, Keats p129 and Joyce p136. He speaks Spanish although the single Spanish quote has a typo. But most importantly he is fighting obesity himself and it seems he is winning the fight. Therein lies his diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.

Part I of The obesity myth is called Fat Science and is a diatribe about the vast conspiracy that demonizes obesity and incites us to fight it. He says obesity is NOT dangerous to your health but the treatment is and no treatment works and nobody is obese anyway. While the message may contain truth, the messenger is hysterical and unbelievable. For example on page 15. he writes that the authors of a study showing that increased weight is dangerous "...did so in two ways: by removing smoking from the equation, in order to compare thin non-smoking women to fatter non-smoking women, and by exaggerating the meaning of the data this questionable tactic produced." What is wrong with this "tactic?" "First, note that in this sort of interpretive context removing smoking from the equation is tantamount to removing anorexia and bulimia from a study that is supposed to measure the relative health risks of fatness and thinness (as mentioned above, smoking is a common weight loss and weight maintenance strategy; and indeed the thin women in the study were far more likely to smoke). Furthermore, even after manipulating their data in this fashion, the authors were able to show only that mildly to moderately obese (non-smoking) women had a negligibly higher mortality risk than (non-smoking) thinner women." So if they included smokers they would be more likely thin and more likely in bad health and then fatness would turn out better. This might work to obfuscate a jury but in print it is easy to see he is being ridiculous.

He roves widely and without focus or consistency. p96 "...the combination of lots of cheap good-tasting food and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle makes it easy to put on weight..." This contradicts the statement, "The obesity myth is built around the false belief that it is possible to determine whether someone has a healthy lifestyle by observing whether that person maintains a 'healthy' weight." p 137 "Being heavier than average may be a sign of the presence of other factors that are health risks, especially a lack of physical activity..." He puts "may" in italics but he has already said loudly that lack of physical activity is NOT a cause of obesity. ..and so on.

In the third and final section of The obesity myth, Campos really gets flaky. He tries to explain why none of his message pertains to himself. p129 "..despite my partial enslavement-which dear reader, is in all likelihood not so different than your own - to the insane cult..." p245 "...If you can manage to do this," stop dieting and worrying about your weight, "you may well lose weight in the process, but far more important, you will get to a place where the weight you lose has been lost precisely because you no longer care, at some deep level of self-acceptance whether you've lost weight or not.." p147 "In a nation in which food is cheap and plentiful, and in which it is easy to become sedentary, telling people they should lose weight by eating less and exercising more does not work." Eating less and exercising more doesn't work? Or is it that telling them to doesn't work?

p251 "Every book is a failure, because no book can actually say what its author envisioned, when it was all still feverish outlines and garbled notes and grand ambitions to change this or that aspect of our unsatisfactory world." Amen.