Hysteria over obesity — largely driven by an industry looking for a massive payday — has led the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to open the door for Medicare to treat obesity as if it were a disease. The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) noted today that the $40 billion weight loss industry is putting enormous resources behind research and lobbying efforts that grossly exaggerate the costs of being overweight.

“The pharmaceutical and weight loss industry have manufactured an ‘epidemic’ to have the cost of their weight loss drugs and treatments underwritten by taxpayers,” said CCF executive director Richard Berman.

An Epidemic of Obesity Myths,” a recently released CCF report, highlights the pharmaceutical industry’s influence in the obesity debate. Citing a wide array of health, exercise and nutrition experts at leading universities, as well as the former editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, the report also challenges popular obesity statistics, including:

Obesity causes 300,000 deaths each year
This statistic comes from a study by Dr. D.B. Allison, who has received funding from at least 20 companies involved in weight loss products. Among many other flaws, Allison’s study used data from as long ago as 1948 and failed to account for any of the improvements in medical treatments over the last 50 years.

65% of American adults are overweight or obese
Xavier Pi-Sunyer, who has also received significant funding from the makers of anti-obesity drugs, chaired a key National Institutes of Health obesity panel, which in 1998 instantly cast 30 million Americans into the “overweight” category by changing the government’s definition. That group includes presently “overweight” celebrities like Will Smith, Pierce Brosnan, Michael Jordan, Cal Ripkin, and even President Bush.

Obesity costs the United States $117 billion each year
Graham Colditz, co-author of a 1998 study that is the single source for this figure, has received funding from Roche Laboratories, maker of the anti-obesity drug Xenical. His study acknowledged “double-counting of costs” which “would inflate the cost estimate.”

“Obesity is not a ‘disease’ if it can be cured by taking regular walks and eating less,” Berman said. “We need to be careful not to dumb down the definition of the term disease at the expense of taxpayers.”

To request a copy of “An Epidemic of Obesity Myths,” contact Mike Burita at (202) 463-7112 or click here to download PDF for more information.