The other side of obesity: a bibliography of recent literature

The other side of obesity: a bibliography of recent literature – Bibliography

Nancy Duran

Obesity, generally defined as weight at least 20% in excess of the range suggested in standard height weight tables or a body mass index (BMI) greater than 27, is generally accepted as a severe problem. That concept of obesity is questionable. There are, however, health benefits as well as health risks to obesity. There are also aspects of the problem that have not been studied. For example, what is the health status of the obese who are not in treatment programs? It is also hard to separate the social bias against fat from the medical aspects. This “other side” of the obesity question has been addressed by a small group of authors since the dieting craze began. This bibliography of recent literature attempts to identify these hard-to-find references.


Over the years, there has been a minority of health professionals who have questioned the concept that overweight/obesity equates to ill health and/or a medical problem for everyone.[1-7] Health professionals should not need to be reminded that individuals vary in physical attributes as well as genetic inheritance. It is inherent in their training. Yet, the assumption that all people should weigh within a specified range seems to be acceptable. Some researchers are acknowledging that the standards derived from insurance data on morbidity and mortality based mostly on people of European descent are not necessarily appropriate for all people.[8]

Dieting may be a greater health hazard than weighing too much; it may be a risk factor for, or possibly even a cause of, eating disorders, weight gain, and other health risks.[1,3,6-9] A review of the research on starvation suggests problems remarkably similar to those related to dieting. There are no diseases or behaviors that are associated only with obesity.1 In fact, overweight/ obesity is negatively associated with some types of cancers, some types of cardiac disease, osteoporosis, and some infectious diseases.[3,4] If obesity is such a serious health hazard, why are Americans living longer at the same time they are getting fatter?[6]

Some aspects of the weight problem have not been adequately studied. Most subjects have been people in weight loss programs raising the question of how they differ from the population that either doesn’t diet or “goes it alone?” Are those who don’t diet but who are “overweight” at greater health risk? The insurance tables are not sensitive enough to answer that question.

This annotated bibliography is a selection of articles and books that offer an alternative view of the relationship of weight to health. It should not be considered comprehensive, because there is no appropriate category in any of these data bases to identify this topic. It is the result of extensive searches of Medline, Agricola, and social and psychological literature indexes, online catalog searches, and searches of references in articles.


Browner KD, Rodin J. The dieting maelstrom: Is it possible and advisable to lose weight? Am Psychol 1994;49:781-91.

Brownell and Rodin address the issue of the value of dieting. They acknowledge that it is ineffective for some individuals, but helpful to others. They especially recommended discriminating between those who need to lose weight and those who are not overweight. There is a list of recommendations for needed research and for a practical approach to obesity and dieting based on current knowledge.

Kilbourne J. Still killing us softly: Advertising and the obsession with thinness. In: Fallon P, Katz MA, Wooley SC, eds. Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders. New York: Guildford, 1994:395-418.

This is an excellent assessment of the effect advertising has on the social concept of correct weight and on what are appropriate food choices.

Moore TJ. Lifespan: Who Lives Longer–and Why. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Although this is not limited to obesity, it is a very good discussion of the results of research on obesity, cholesterol control and heart disease in relation to longevity.

Rand CSW. Obesity: Definition, diagnostic criteria, and associated health problems. In: Alexander-Mott L, Lumsden DB. Understanding Eating Disorders: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Piervosa, and Obesity. Washington, DC: Taylor & Francis, 1994:221-41.

There is a discussion of various definitions of obesity, including the difference between culturally defined and medically significant levels. Various benefits of obesity are mentioned. The book is addressed to an educated audience.

Schroeder CR. Fat is Not a Four-Letter Word. Minneapolis, MN: Chronimed, 1992.

This book covers the long history of approval and disapproval of fat people by society. It explains how the current definition of who is fat developed. It is well researched as well as very readable.

Schwartz H. Never Satisfied: A Cultural History of Diets, Fantasies, and Fat. New York: Anchor Books, 1990.

Written for a general audience, this is a realistic look at women’s builds and the attitudes toward them throughout history. It gives a good description of how the weight-loss industry influences Americans’ attitudes toward thinness.

Seid RP. Never Too Thin: Why Women Are at War with Their Bodies. New York: Prentice Hall, 1989.

An excellent book on the history of women’s beauty in relation to weight, dieting, and prejudice toward fat. Seid argues that thin is simply another clothing style that controls women. She also addresses the role of advertising in promoting the concept that being thin leads to happiness.

Smith SE. The great diet deception. USA Today 1995:123:76-8.

This is an excellent, brief, and readable summary of the current argument against dieting without medical justification and supervision. It includes the role of the weight loss industry.

Cited sources are also appropriate additions to the bibliography.


[1.] Burgard D, Lyons P. Alternatives in obesity treatment: Focusing on health for fat women. In: Fallon P, Katz M, Wooley SC, eds. Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders. New York: Guildford, 1994;212-30.

[2.] Cassell JA. Social anthropology and nutrition: A different look at obesity in America. J Am Diet Assoc 1995;95:423-7.

[3.] Ernsberger P, Haskew P. Health implications of obesity: An alternative view. J Obes Weight Regulation 1987,6:2-81.

[4.] Garner DM, Wooley SC. Confronting the failure of behavioral and dietary treatments for obesity. Clin Psychol Rev 1991;11:729-80.

[5.] Neumark-Sztainer D. Excessive weight preoccupation: Normative but not harmless. Nutr Today 1995;30:68-74.

[6.] Rothblum ED. Women and weight: Fad and fiction. J Psychol 1990;124:5-24.

[7.] Weigle DS. Human obesity: Exploding the myths. West J Med 1990;153:421-8.

[8.] Hanson RL, McCance DR, Jacobsson LTH, Narayan KM, Nelson RG, Pettitt DJ, Bennett PH, Knowler WC. The U-shaped association between body mass index and mortality: Relationship with weight gain in a Native American population. J Clin Epidemiol 1995;48:903-16.

[9.] Andres R, Muller DC, Sorkin JD. Long-term effects of change in body weight on all-cause mortality. Ann Intern Med 1993,119:737-43.

Nancy Duran, M.S., M.A., is a science reference librarian at Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois. Her M.S. is in human nutrition, and her M.A. is in library science.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Lippincott/Williams & Wilkins

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