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NYT reporter speaks on politics of weight loss

Biology determines the limits to how fat or thin individuals can be, even if they eat healthy and exercise regularly — and decades of rigorous scientific studies prove this, says New York Times reporter Gina Kolata.

"You should not beat yourself up if you fail to achieve and maintain a weight that you think would be ideal," she says. "You can look good at many weights and you can be healthy and fit.

"I'd like to be taller than 5 feet 3 inches. I'd like to have perfect eyesight, but biology does not let me. The same is true for weight. There really is a biological limit to what each person can achieve."

Kolata will give the 2009 Motorola Lecture at 7 p.m. March 5 in the Michigan Union Pendleton Room. The public lecture is co-sponsored by the Department of Women's Studies and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender.

She will discuss her book "Rethinking Thin," which reveals that society's obsession with weight loss is less about health than about money, politics and cultural ideals.

"There's no system, period, that will make a dramatic and permanent difference in people's weights," says Kolata, a senior writer at the New York Times and an award-winning science and medical journalist.

In addition to writing about medical research for the Times, she also writes "Personal Best," a monthly fitness column. "Almost everyone who is fat has tried every system that exists, and often tried them more than once."

Science has shown that people have limited control over how thin they can be. "Many people can lose some weight," she says, "but most cannot become arbitrarily thin. This does not mean you can't be healthy and fit."

Covering the weight loss industry has "a special intrigue because there seems to be a growing disconnect between what science finds and what the public believes," she says.

Kolata has written five other books, including the bestseller "Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It."

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