New JAMA Study Challenges CDC's 400,000 Obesity Deaths Figure

Research Concludes Obesity-Related Deaths Are One-Fourth That of

Embattled CDC Statistic; Center for Consumer Freedom Asks Agency to

Repudiate Its Contested Figure

Apr 19, 2005, 01:00 ET from Center for Consumer Freedom

    WASHINGTON, April 19 /PRNewswire/ -- A new study by researchers at the
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes
 of Health (NIH) published in JAMA concludes that obesity kills 112,000
 Americans each year -- a dramatic decrease from an admittedly flawed study
 published last year by the CDC. That study suggested obesity killed 400,000
 Americans a year. In a letter sent today to CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding,
 Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) Executive Director Richard Berman draws
 attention to the vast disparity between the two figures. The letter calls on
 the CDC to publicly explain the errors behind its 400,000 deaths statistic,
 give an accounting of its embattled report, and endorse the conclusions of
 today's vastly improved study.
     "Today's scientifically superior study further demonstrates that the
 Center for Consumer Freedom's long-standing criticism of the CDC's obesity
 scaremongering was well-founded," Rick Berman stated in his letter to
 Gerberding. "Since June, when we published 'An Epidemic of Obesity Myths,' the
 Center for Consumer Freedom has repeatedly called on the CDC to retract its
 false claim that obesity kills 400,000 Americans each year and that it would
 soon become the nation's number one cause of preventable death. This false
 statistic from the CDC has become the rallying cry for trial lawyers pursuing
 obesity lawsuits against restaurants and for the self-appointed food police
 seeking regulations and taxes."
     Today's study in JAMA indicates that being overweight, as opposed to
 obese, actually saves 86,000 lives. When the authors add their obesity and
 overweight deaths, they write: "Thus, for overweight and obesity combined, our
 estimate was 25,814 excess deaths." Perhaps more importantly, the study
 employs more recent data that shows a much lower risk of obesity. This data
 was collected by the CDC itself, and could have been used in its 400,000
     "Today's study uses the CDC's own, more recent data, which shows a much
 lower risk of obesity. It's a scandal that the CDC's 400,000 deaths estimate
 didn't use this information, which was readily available on the agency's
 computers," Berman wrote to Gerberding. "The American public deserves to know
 where the CDC stands on this greatly reduced number and whether obesity is
 truly worse than the Black Death, as you have stated."
     Though the CDC has admitted mathematical errors in its 400,000 study, its
 own internal investigation, while more revealing, has been alarmingly
 downplayed. A timeline of events reveals the unfolding politics of obesity-
 related deaths:
     * March 2004 The CDC releases its report during a highly publicized news
       conference saying obesity kills 400,000 Americans a year and is poised
       to become America's number one preventable death, resulting in alarming
       front page headlines across the nation.
     * May 2004 Science magazine reports on the 400,000 deaths figure: "Some
       researchers, including a few at the CDC, dismiss this prediction, saying
       the underlying data are weak. They argue that the paper's compatibility
       with a new anti-obesity theme in government public health
       pronouncements -- rather than sound analysis -- propelled it into
     * November 2004 The Wall Street Journal publishes a front-page story on
       errors in the 400,000-deaths study. The paper notes the study "inflated
       the impact of obesity on the annual death toll by tens of thousands due
       to statistical errors ... Dr. Pechacek wrote to colleagues that he had
       warned two of the paper's authors, as well as another senior scientist,
       'I would never clear this paper if I had been given the opportunity to
       provide a formal review.'"
     * December 2004 A follow-up story in the Wall Street Journal reports that
       due to additional problems based on the "authors' scientific approach":
       "The number of obesity-related deaths could be less than half of the
       400,000 estimated in the flawed CDC study, according to some scientists
       familiar with the debate."
     * January 2005 The CDC admits that its 400,000 deaths figure was
       exaggerated due to mathematical errors.
     * February 2005 The CDC buries on its website a summary of its internal
       investigation into the 400,000 number. The summary reads in part: "The
       scientists expressed concerns and did meet with some of the authors but
       they were not convinced that their perspectives were listened to or that
       requests for data were acknowledged ..."
     * February 2005 Los Angeles Times report on the CDC's internal
       investigation of the flawed report: "A controversial government study
       that may have sharply overstated America's death toll from obesity was
       inappropriately released as a result of miscommunication, bureaucratic
       snafus and acquiescence from dissenting scientists."
     * April 2005 JAMA publishes a significantly revised estimate concluding
       that obesity kills 112,000 Americans each year -- a far cry from the
       400,000 figure claimed earlier by the CDC.
     To read Berman's letter and the report "An Epidemic of Obesity Myths,"
 visit The Center for Consumer Freedom is a
 nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies, and consumers,
 working together to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer

SOURCE Center for Consumer Freedom