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katharine whittemore

6 books on the obesity epidemic

Stollen, chocolate bark, latkes, noodle kugel. December is the cruelest month if you’re watching your weight. And in anticipation of the parties, I’ve tormented myself by reading books full of bad news on obesity. Steer clear of me over by the eggnog; I’m bursting with buzzkills. Here’s one, for instance — Michael Jordan is overweight, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is obese. Wait, does that mean His Airness and The Terminator are of shape? In bad health? No, says J. Eric Oliver, a University of Chicago political science professor and the author of “Fat Politics: The Real Story Behind America’s Obesity Epidemic” (Oxford University, 2006). Rather, it’s “because a handful of people are defining these terms in ridiculous ways.” He means the body mass index, or BMI. I never thought to question the BMI. It seemed like another thing to feel bad about, a sign I should exercise more and try to be a calorie refusenik, holidays or not.

But taking it personally, says Oliver, is the wrong response. There are giant, often hidden, forces — from run amok agribusiness to toxins in our environment to the dark side of technology and money-hungry industries — that seem to be working against us when it comes to obesity. And the “pseudoscientific” BMI is one.

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