Obesity and Malnutrition: Why Do They Occur Together?

The link between obesity and malnutrition has been widely and vigorously documented. Populations around the world who suffer from overweight and diabetes often simultaneously suffer from malnourishment. Why? And what might this indicate about the root cause of the obesity epidemic?

The Caloric Balance Hypothesis tells us that overeating will make us fat and that under-eating will make us thin. The Lipophilia Hypothesis tells us that the situation is more complicated -- our fat tissue essentially "works for itself."

The coexistence of obesity and malnutrition conflicts with the predictions of Caloric Balance. It does not conflict with the predictions of Lipophilia. After all, according to Lipophilia, obesity does not signal "overnourishment." It signals a metabolic/hormonal defect.

Okay, so is there evidence that obesity and malnutrition can actually coexist? In fact, there's tons. Here is just a taste:

1. 'The Argentinean paradox: the case of contradictory child malnutrition epidemics.'

From the abstract:

"From the nutritional standpoint, Argentina exhibits a kaleidoscopic health profile that is unexplainable from the rational logic. On the one side, severe cases of malnourished children are violently exposed through the media as unexpected breaking news... from the nutritional point of view, Argentina shows a contradictory picture characterized by the coexistence of malnutrition and excess food production. Argentina ranks fifth among food exporting countries in the world... Amid the prevalence of chronic malnutrition... Obesity is becoming a public health problem and the new face of poverty affecting families."[1]

These researchers tell us that the coexistence of obesity and malnourishment in Argentina is 'unexplainable from the rational logic' because they're stuck in the paradigm of "calories count." If only calories 'count,' how can you account for why the morbidly obese often live shoulder to shoulder with the famished? It doesn't make any sense.

2. For more evidence, watch this video to hear Gary Taubes discuss this phenomenon at length.

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1. R. Mercer The Argentinean paradox: the case of contradictory child malnutrition epidemics J Epidemiol Community Health 2003;57:83 doi:10.1136/jech.57.2.83.

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