Monday, May 30, 2005

America is full of fat people, right? Well, I've been subject to the same delusion. I think it took hold firmly in 1993, when I drove from Waterloo, Ontario, to Milwaukee, for a few days at GenCon, and for some reason was struck by seeing all the fat people in the streets of Milwaukee. Was that simply observer bias? Who knows. Now I live in California and it's very clear to me that Californians don't tend to be obese, but I still had the meme in my head that "Americans are fat" even if California big cities might be some fitness-oriented exception.

Well, I'm encouraged to hear I might be wrong. It seems this is a common myth, and that other well-off countries have similar weight profiles, as explained by Paul Campos in a TCS interview (I keep reading TCS for exactly this kind of myth-busting material though many articles are more boring). I wish the article provided links supporting the claims, because there were a few quite interesting tidbits from the article:
  • The CDC had previously estimated 400,000 deaths from obesity in 2004 but has recently had to revise that figure significantly downward (following CDC links, I see the surgeon general now says an "estimated 300,000 deaths[/year] may be attributable to obesity").
  • The classification of "overweight" in children is defined as the heaviest 15% of children for a particular age cohort. That would mean nearly a million children are labelled overweight because they're defined that way. According to that methodology, 15% of children in a third-world, famine-wracked country would also be overweight. I can't find evidence at CDC of this methodology but there was a study showing that 16% of teens had been found to be overweight [*].
  • There's no strong evidence that Type 2 diabetes -- one of the diseases justifying the labeling of obesity as an epidemic -- has increased, let alone having increased due to weight factors.
  • The governor of Arkansas has written legislation proposing that body weight index be part of kids' report cards. If I were in Arkansas I would write him personally to indicate my disgust at such misguided and potentially harmful interference in the family.


One nasty statistic I picked up myself from the surgeon general's note is that "Overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults". Yikes, oh no! But combine that with the claim that 60% of adults are overweight or obese, and a sensible person will see that so-called overweight adolescents would have only a slightly higher (if measurable) tendency than non-overweight adolescents to become overweight adults. Sigh.

2 comments:

Rory Sinclair said...

Hi Lisa,

I've been looking into sorting myself out with some sort of web-accessible calendar, which I could access via iCal (on my powerbook), a.n. other client (on my work windows machine) and via the web (for out-and-about), and was shocked to discover that in this day and age, there STILL exists no IETF-ratified calendaring standard.

Having done my homework, I eventually found your draft RFC on the CalDAV standard, and I must say I heartily agree with your design, and the leveraging of the existing WebDAV standards.

I am therefore considering writing a prototype application using Jakarta Slide as a basis, and implementing an (AJAX-enabled) web front end, but thought i'd ask you first of all if you know of any existing CalDAV implementations, or any works in progress worth looking at. I'm a Java guy usually, but am open to looking at new stuff (Ruby on Rails perhaps?)

Let me know what you think, anyway.

Kindest regards

Rory Sinclair
rory@mungler.com

Anonymous said...

Your claim that overweight children only have a slightly higher chance of becoming overweight adults seems statistically suspect. It is not as simple as 60% of adults are obese, so obese kids will have a 60% probability of growing into obese adults. One issue is the size of the populations in each case, the adults one is much larger. Further the adults percentage depends on the obesity stats of several generations, all the way back to say the 1930s and later. It is entirely possible that kids today have a much higher chance of remaining obese. A better comparison (for example) would be to compare kids obesity with young adult obesity, since the two are closer in time/habits/culture .. anyway I'd also like to see links to studies disproving Type2 diabetes incidents rising, connections with obesity etcetera.

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