The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Friday, June 04, 2004

Misleading Statistics on Obesity 

Obesity Program Recognized (emphasis added):

An initiative of Arkansas lawmakers was recognized nationally Thursday as state health officials presented initial findings of a study designed to raise awareness about and invoke action to combat childhood obesity.

Dr. Joe Thompson, director of the Arkansas Center of Health Improvement, said that 40 percent of Arkansas school children are either overweight or at-risk of becoming overweight; 58 percent of school children are of normal weight and two percent were found to be underweight.
Thompson said students appear to peak in the fifth through eighth grades with about 43 percent measuring in the at-risk or obese categories. Results show students then tail off in high school with girls tending to lose weight and boys more likely to maintain their weight, he said.

Ethnicity also plays a part in the likelihood that a child may become obese, Thompson said, with statistics showing 38 percent of white students in the at-risk or obese category while 43 percent of blacks and 47 percent of Hispanics fall into those categories.

This is where people playing games with statistics really bothers me. Please pay special attention to how those numbers are reported. They basically lumped together two very different groups together in one, as if they were the same. Overweight, and At-Risk of Becoming Overweight are two very different things. What's worse is they don't explain what makes someone at risk? In reality, anyone is at risk of becoming overweight. All you have to do is stop exercising and eat a lot. Done. What's worse is that the problem that they're trying to report on may not exist at all. According this report, it is very possible that 1% of Arkansas children are overweight, and 39% are at risk (whatever that means). That puts things into a much different light doesn't it? This is yet another example of journalists making that statistics fit the story that they want to tell... instead of making the statistics tell the story.

On a similar vein (no pun intended) is the "increase" in diabetes cases this year. I happen to know that this is really B.S. My mother has adult onset diabetes, and found out at the end of last year that the guidelines for blood sugar levels changed. So while last year she was in a border line safe category (and taking a very mild dose of an oral medication), this year she was suddenly diabetic and put on a much stronger dose. Her blood sugar levels hadn't changed. Of course her doctor discussed it with her, said he agreed with the new guidelines, and recommended the change. That's not the issue. The issue was how it was reported in the media as if something major had happened to cause so many more people to become diabetic. Well, something did happen. We changed what diabetic meant.

For a different take on the current obesity debate... see this series of articles on TechStation (via Instapundit).


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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.

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