Big Fat Lies

The Truth About Your Weight and Health

by Glenn A. Gaesser, Ph.D.

Newly Released, Updated, and Expanded BIG FAT LIES, A Combative Response to Fat Phobia and Fad Diets

Just in time to temper the alarming news that American obesity has reached its highest level, Glenn Gaesser, Ph.D., a UVA professor of exercise physiology, has updated Big Fat Lies: The Truth about Your Weight and Your Health (Gürze Books ©2002), his book that turned diet and exercise myths upside-down and became a media phenomenon.

Big Fat Lies challenges conventional wisdom about body weight and health, uncovering substantial scientific evidence to show that when it comes to fat, both the American public and the national scientific community have been working under false assumptions and self-perpetuating myths.

“Americans have been deceived by those with a stake in the $30-plus billion-per-year weight-loss industry,” says Gaesser. “The health risks of being overweight as well as the health benefits of weight loss have been exaggerated.”

Obesity is commonly cited as the cause of numerous life-threatening diseases and disorders, including diabetes, heart disease, and clogged arteries. A new national survey finds that six out of 10 Americans are overweight and at risk for developing those maladies. According to Gaesser, these assertions, along with the frequently cited “phantom statistic” of 300,000 premature deaths per year caused by excessive weight, are not substantiated.

Not only is there insufficient evidence to make the connections, says Gaesser, but many studies have suggested just the opposite. For example, a large-scale 1998 study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health showed that among African-Americans, the optimal body mass index (BMI) for longevity appears to be in the overweight range. Even among whites the data did not support the widely held belief that thin men and women live longest. Other studies have shown positive health benefits from fat, including reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes associated with hip and thigh fat.

While Gaesser may be bucking a trend in challenging the popular notions about body fat, many health professionals share his caveat: It might be OK to be fat if you are also fit. “Fat men and women who are physically fit and exercise regularly outlive thin men and women who are unfit and sedentary, and studies repeatedly show that it is easier to get a fat person fit than it is to get a fat person thin,” he asserts.

To that end, Gaesser has developed a fitness and nutrition program tailored to people who typically reject the demands of popular exercise and diet regimes. His Twenty/Twenty Program for Metabolic Fitness, detailed in Big Fat Lies, is proven to increase fitness and reduce risk of heart disease and diabetes, even in the absence of weight loss.

The Twenty/Twenty program is based on Gaesser’s embrace of the new “Health at Every Size” paradigm, which he calls “a viable alternative to the calorie-deprivation practices that have focused solely on weight loss, and seem to be only making us fatter.”

Perhaps the most harmful aspect of the misinformation Gaesser sees perpetuated in popular press and advertising is the increase in unhealthy fad dieting. He is particularly concerned by regimes like those that profess to burn fat quickly, which has been shown by many opponents to have a negative long-term health impact. “Chronic efforts at weight loss may be responsible for more deaths than ‘excess weight’ itself,” he says.

With an abundance of new research to bolster his original challenges, Gaesser hopes to reach the millions of Americans who may have heard the buzz about his work but were unable to read the first edition of his book due to a small print-run. As Steven N. Blair of the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research writes in the foreword to the new edition of Big Fat Lies, “Dr. Gaesser’s provocative examination of the science on this topic, and his straightforward consideration of difficult issues and questions make this book a ‘must read’ for all those interested in understanding the relationship of body weight to health as well as the potential repercussions of endless attempts to lose weight.”