CDC Director Gerberding Says Study Showing Overweight People Live Longer Flawed
CDC Director Julie Gerberding at a news conference on Thursday said that there were possible flaws in a recent study that found overweight people might live longer than those considered to be of normal weight and apologized for the "confusion" the study's results may have caused, the AP/Washington Post reports (AP/Washington Post, 6/3).
In the study, released in April, researchers led by CDC senior epidemiologist Katherine Flegal analyzed data from several major federal health studies conducted between 1976 and 2000. According to the study, obesity and extreme obesity cause about 112,000 deaths annually, but being overweight was found to prevent about 86,000 deaths per year. Based on those figures, the net U.S. death toll from excess weight is 26,000 per year. By contrast, researchers found that being underweight results in 34,000 deaths per year (California Healthline, 4/20).
Scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society criticized the report, saying the normal-weight group contained people with chronic health problems such as heart disease and cancer who tend to weigh less because of those conditions (AP/Washington Post, 6/3).
Gerberding was one of the authors of an earlier study that initially estimated annual obesity-related deaths at 400,000, a figure they later revised to 365,000 (Wahlberg, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/3). CDC now "estimates that obesity is related to about 112,000 deaths," according to the agency Web site.
The study was "looking at people who are thin because they're sick, not who got sick because they're thin," Michael Thun, ACS chief epidemiologist, said (Marchione, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/3). Gerberding said the agency needs to develop better methods of analysis to define the relationship between mortality and obesity. She added that CDC will increase obesity research and bring together departments throughout the agency to develop new approaches to reducing obesity rates (Kleffman, Contra Costa Times, 6/3).
"What we don't want is for this debate to continue to confuse people," Gerberding said (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/3). She added that "this risk-estimation process is in its infancy" and obesity is a "serious epidemic" that should be addressed publicly. Gerberding said, "A lot of people were hoping that CDC was going to come out and say it was OK to be overweight, but we're not saying that. It is not OK to be overweight."
Dan Mindus -- senior analyst with the Center for Consumer Freedom, a not-for-profit organization funded in part by the restaurant industry -- said, "Previously CDC's 24/7 message was that your love handles are going to kill you. Now that they're caught with a flawed study, they're trying to redirect the focus to other issues, such as cost and diseases" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/3).
Also at the news conference, Gerberding said CDC was analyzing data in a first-of-its-kind study in which CDC researchers studied an outbreak of obesity similar to the way an outbreak of infectious disease would be studied, the New York Times reports. West Virginia, which has the third highest rate of obesity in the nation, requested the study after state officials found the rate of obesity seemed "to be increasing faster than the rest of the nation," according to Kerri Kennedy, program manager at the West Virginia Physical Activity and Nutrition Program.
The three-week study began April 25 and focused on two places in the state representative of a city and town. Researchers questioned schools, businesses and restaurants and residents about eating and physical activity opportunities in the areas. The analysis is expected to be completed by August.
However, some scientists question the study's usefulness. David DeMets, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Wisconsin, said, "We get a lot of false positives from that kind of investigation" (Kolata, New York Times, 6/3).
ABCNews' "World News Tonight" on Thursday reported on CDC's statement on obesity. The segment includes comments from Richard Berman, executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom; Gerberding; and David Katz, director of medical studies in public health and preventive medicine at the Yale School of Public Health (Stark, 'World News Tonight," ABCNews, 6/2).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.