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By Elissa Elliott


The science of obesity.

My husband and I have an airline mantra that we strictly adhere to: "Don't give up the armrest." Which means: when the person sitting next to you asks if he or she might please raise the armrest, our response is a courteous but firm "no." Why? Because most often the person asking is obese and cannot squeeze his plump derrière into the space allotted by the airlines. My husband and I reason that we paid for a full seat, and in the past, we've experienced the uncomfortable effect of someone else's spillage causing us to sit knock-elbowed the entire flight. And to be embarrassingly truthful, such encounters often lead to disgusted dialogue once we're safely out of the plane: "How can he live that way? Does he know how he looks? What a lack of self-control!" Paul Campos, the author of The Obesity Myth: Why America's Obsession with Weight is Hazardous to Your Health, would like to strangle us. Americans have created a false and unfounded hysteria about fat in general, Campos argues, and obese people are one more segment of the population that we have ostracized unfairly. They cannot help who they are. They are programmed to fluctuate around a predetermined genetic weight. And the rest of us who are frantically attempting to look like the slim, sleek magazine models are dieting ourselves to death—literally. Campos identifies study after study in which, he alleges, researchers have erroneously misrepresented and manipulated their data to pinpoint fat as the culprit. Why? Oftentimes, the studies are funded by the very organizations—diet and weight-loss programs—that want us to become obsessed with losing weight.

In medical terms, whether or not a person is obese is determined by the body mass index, or BMI, a measurement of body fat based on height and weight. (To check your own BMI, go to Today, more than 60 percent of Americans are either overweight (BMI >25), obese (BMI >30), or morbidly obese (BMI >40). Generally speaking, a BMI of 19 to 25 indicates ...

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