While those who profit from the so-called "obesity epidemic" insist that health experts have reached absolute "consensus" on the health risks posed by a high body-mass index (BMI), Associated Press medical editor Daniel Q. Haney reminds us (in a story picked up by nearly 200 media outlets) that as the risk of "being on the pudgy side" is debated, "some experts believe it isn't bad."

The story quotes obesity researcher Steven Heymsfield providing a classic example of a scientist preaching consensus where none exists. "Everybody agrees that if your BMI is 28, you are at increased risk," he insists. (Actor Brad Pitt, who's twice been named Peoplemagazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" has a BMI of 28.) Heymsfield should know better. In 2001, his then-colleague Dr. D.B. Allison concluded (in a deeply flawed study) that excess weight caused 300,000 deaths a year — even though the study's own data show no statistically significant relationship between having a BMI of 28 or 29 and increased risk of death. In fact, some of his data showlower (albeit, statistically insignificant) risk for BMI 28 and 29.

In a separate story, Haney reports that the danger of obesity"is much less clear for black people than for whites." He correctly notes: "Several studies show little or no association between rising weight and the risk of death" for blacks, "especially women." In fact, the story continues, "being overweight but not obese could even be a benefit rather than a hazard."

Earlier this month, an article in The New York Timesdescribed the objections of respected researcher Dr. Jeffrey Friedman to obesity hysteria. Discussion of the subject has become"so political, so rife with misinformation and disinformation," Friedman complained.

But highly motivated food cops refuse to acknowledge the dissenting voices and inconvenient research. Philip James, an obesity agenda-setter at the World Health Organization (which recently endorsed fat taxes and food marketing restrictions), told the AP: "Over 99 percent of experts throughout the world are convinced" that obesity is "a huge problem." Author and Harvard Medical School graduate Michael Crichton has offered a stinging rebuttal to this kind of consensus-science pronouncement in general:

Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.

University of Virginia professor of exercise physiology Glenn Gaesser more specifically denounces the supposed consensus on obesity. In his book, Big Fat Lies, he writes:

Americans have been deceived. The overwhelming evidence against this deception has largely been ignored, not just by those with a stake in the more than $30 billion a year weight loss industry, which was founded on our belief that fat is unhealthy, but by a scientific community similarly biased against fat and mired in conservatism and inertia.

Joanne Ikeda, co-director of the Center for Weight and Health at the University of California Berkeley, dismisses the supposedly universal view that high BMI is a health risk. "What matters," Ikeda tells Haney, is "metabolic fitness." And Ikeda's not bashful about explaining the root of sky-is-falling obesity rhetoric: "I think it has a lot do with the dieting and pharmaceutical industry and the pressure to medicate every condition."

Indeed, the AP's main source for driving obesity fears isDr. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, who has extensive ties to the pharmaceutical industry (whose weight-loss drugs provide a multi-billion-dollar conflict of interest). It was Pi-Sunyer wholed the charge to change the definition of overweight so that, as the AP reports, "suddenly an extra 35 million more Americans were judged to have weight problems." And what about Dr. Heymsfield, who works under Pi-Sunyer? A look at the Center for Science in the Pubic Interest's (CSPI)"Integrity in Science" online database suggests the good doctor has an apparent interest in exaggerating the health consequences of obesity. Heymsfield has:

Led Roche-funded study of Xenical (orlistat) on weight-loss … Did research sponsored in part by Thompson Medical Company concerning hydroxycitric acid and weight loss … Study on leptin/obesity supported in part by Amgen, Inc. … Heymsfield is listed on the Slim-Fast Web site . . . as a trustee of the Slim-Fast Nutrition Institute.