During a talk she gave last night, University Prof. Anna Kirkland, said that while Americans might be getting fatter, the issue is not nearly the epidemic the media makes it out to be.

About a dozen students attended Kirkland’s talk called, “Fat Panic in Law, Policy and Popular Culture” at the Union’s University Club.

During the talk, Kirkland, a Women’s studies and political science professor, said the media blows the severity of the obesity “epidemic” out of proportion and characterizes it as a moral panic.

“Yes, we have gotten fatter,” she said. “But the extent to which fat is unhealthy is greatly exaggerated.”

Kirkland addressed what she referred to as the “headless fatty” – a picture or video in which news programs feature overweight people walking down the street with their heads cropped out or blurred. These videos, Kirkland said, distort reality by implying that all overweight Americans are obese.

Kirkland also explained that the number of obesity-caused deaths in the United States has been exaggerated in the past. In 2000, for instance, the Center for Disease Control cited about 400,000 obesity-related deaths, second only to tobacco-related deaths. The CDC changed the way it classified deaths, though, and the original estimate was later reduced from 400,000 to 26,000, according to the report.

Kirkland suggested that society’s longstanding aversion toward overweight people contributes to America’s disillusion about the obesity epidemic. Kirkland said that since the diet and pharmaceutical industries make more money when obesity is perceived as a more widespread problem, they contribute to the exaggeration.

She also implicated academic institutions that depend on receiving grants for churning out obesity-related studies and research.

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