Medical Technology

Documentary Asks How Body-Size Bias is affecting Obesity Research

A short film suggests that framing evidence of positive associations between obesity and health may limit opportunities for new research.

What you should know:

  • How do biases about body size impact research on obesity and what information do people believe to be true? These are the kinds of questions addressed by “What’s in a Number?” A short document by Retro and Scientific American.

  • Katherine Flegal, PhD, was a senior scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She conducted a research study that indicated that obesity is responsible for about 100,000 deaths per year in the United States. This contrasted with a popular statistic that stated that 300,000 people die every year. Also, overweight people had a longer lifespan than people of normal weight.

  • Flegal’s research was widely criticised and the 300,000 annul-death number continues to be quoted in medical journals and newspapers, as well as in legislation.

  • According to the results of the documentary which contradict the belief that thinner is always better are frequently labeled with “obesity paradox,” which frames the results as not being predicted.

  • Affiliating results under the “obesity paradox” label can cause disbelief about findings and hinder the advancement of research, says cancer researcher Bette Caan, DrPH, whose own research suggests that retaining muscles during treatment is essential for patients suffering from breast cancer than trying to avoid weight gain.

This is a summary of the article “The Weight Game” published by Scientific American on November 18 20th, 2020. The full article can be found on

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