A new obesity study out this week indicates that childhood obesity rates have gone up slightly since 1999, contradicting another recent study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, which found childhood obesity rates have fallen significantly for the youngest children. But behind the alarmist headlines, the study fits in with a broader narrative we’ve noted before: Obesity is leveling off. Even though it failed to confirm the most optimistic projections, the fact that it showed no increase in obesity over the past four years contradicts the alarmist predictions that obesity rates will skyrocket in the future. Of course busybodies and activists need those kind of “sky is falling” forecasts to advance their agenda of food taxes and regulations.
Both studies used the same data, but the latest one – published in JAMA Pediatrics – included four additional years, beginning its study in 1999 rather than 2003. The study’s author Asheley Cockrell Skinner made no mention of why 1999 was a better year from which to begin (other than speculation), but we can presume that beginning here better fit a panicky narrative. In explaining her findings, Skinner may have let her impartiality slip, saying, “I don’t want a study like the previous one to change the national discourse.” In truth, her data also showed the plateauing of obesity rates that other studies have found, with no significant changes from 2009-10 to 2011-12.
But even Skinner’s study should temper the part of the national discourse that calls obesity an epidemic in the name of justifying a war on consumer choice composed of “fat taxes” – most notably on soft drinks – and outright bans maintained by the food police on foods they think are unhealthy. Whether obesity rates are decreasing or stalling still shows that alarmist projections that we’re just going to get fatter forever are dangerously wrong.