Imagine reading the headline: “Syndrome X kills thousands of Americans.” You’d be excused for thinking a comic book villain was wreaking havoc on Gotham. The truth is that Syndrome X, also known as metabolic syndrome, is the latest craze in the obesity-hyping game. But according to a recent statement by the American Diabetes Association, Syndrome X may have one thing in common with comic book villains: they’re both fantasy.

Calling metabolic syndrome “today’s alarm,” The Washington Post describes it as “a common yet pernicious cluster of health conditions that elevates risk of cardiac disease.” We’re told that 47 million Americans have this “syndrome,” the blame for which has been levied largely on food. So we see headlines like “Tubby tummy epidemic alarms medicos” and studies with names like “Fast Food and Metabolic Syndrome.

Now some researchers are saying, as one CDC expert put it, that the “emperor needs some consistent clothes.” According to a joint statement from the American Diabetes Association and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes:

[M]etabolic syndrome has been imprecisely defined, there is a lack of certainty regarding its pathogenesis, and there is considerable doubt regarding its value as a CVD [cardio-vascular disease] risk marker. Our analysis indicates that too much critically important information is missing to warrant its designation as a “syndrome.”

The statement, published in the peer-reviewed journal Diabetes Care, goes on to say of metabolic syndrome:

“Criteria are ambiguous or incomplete. Rationale for thresholds are ill defined.”
“No clear basis for including/excluding other CVD risk factors.”
“The CVD risk associated with the ‘syndrome’ appears to be no greater than the sum of its parts.”