Let's Beat that Dead Horse!

Ah, the wonderful Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While much of their work in the area of infectious disease has been top notch, their dogged promotion of ineffective anti-obesity campaigns is ridiculous.

Okay, I suppose their dogged (bark, bark, growl) beliefs that obesity is, in fact, a health problem is the first problem. Their own research has shown, time and time again, that obesity doesn't endanger health, except perhaps at the extremes. Their research has also shown that it's much more dangerous to be underweight than overweight or obese.* Being overweight has the most health benefits, and the lowest death rates.

Ah, but you don't see those, do you?

I don't. And I prowl around the web fairly regularly for information, news, and updates.

Their latest gem is that students don't walk to school enough. In my school district, walking a mile down a major road is like asking to be hit by a car. Not to mention the fact that the township rarely gets around to plowing snow-covered sidewalks by 6:45 am. There are places where it's not very practical.

One of the authors of the study said, "The majority of young people are missing an opportunity to increase daily physical activity by being active travelers." Well, okay, that's somewhat true. Walking is more active than sitting in a car. The real question is: will this really make any difference?

What the CDC is doing is confusing association with causation, something even a second semester statistics student should be able to understand. These days, our kids weigh more and walk to school less, ergo, they would weight less if they walked more.


But these two things may not even be related. Coffee was thought to increase a person's risk of various kinds of cancers, until researchers realized that coffee drinkers were more likely to smoke. The smoking caused the increased risk, NOT the coffee. Which is good for me, because if coffee killed, I'd have been six feet under a long time ago.

The strange irony is this: kids with less-educated parents were more likely to walk to school. Yet obesity has a stronger link to poverty than anything else, save genetics. Therefore, if this theory were true, these kids would be less likely to be obese because they walk more. But they're not. This was shown in a study in the UK.

I know the CDC communicates with people in the UK. I worked in a CDC lab for a summer. We got phone calls from all over. I doubt they're unaware of this research.

But it doesn't show what they want it to show. So, try harder, and we'll get the numbers to say what we want them to. Because if obesity really isn't a health problem, the CDC will lose millions of dollars in grant money, and then lose hundreds of jobs. The problem with spread. It's self-preservation, in a sense. I don't think their evil-doers, really. But if your job is on the line...there's quite a bit of incentive to keep plugging away. That, and the fact that even those who read and do the research are so brainwashed into thinking that obesity is a problem that they don't look between the lines for the real story.

So let's keep beating that dead horse. Nothing better to do, right?

*I'm using these terms as the CDC would, in terms of identifying specific ranges of BMI. For clarity, and so I'm using the same terminology as them.

A VERY late postscript:

I was reading the wonderful Junkfood Science blog and found this quote which explains why this type of research is rarely published and even more rarely publisized.

The danger of publication bias is now well-recognized. We continue to feel that publication of these data is an important service that we intend to continue.... [N]egative outcome studies that seem to go against prevailing wisdom often have great difficulty getting published. Failure to get these data into the public domain means that the process of correcting prevailing wisdom may be slowed significantly.To be competitive for publication [in the American Health Journal], such papers will need to demonstrate access to high-quality empirical data (where applicable) and state-of-the-art methods and analysis.

That says it all, I think.

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lauren said...

How freaking interesting is this.....god especially since I have no idea about any of this stuff, thanks for the info and the cdc god girl don't even get me started!!!!! Healthcare is such an amazing place to work in if we don't have to deal with them!
Great info
xo Lauren

carrie said...


"Healthcare is such an amazing place to work in if we don't have to deal with them!"

You said it, babe! I learned my lesson. ;)

Faith said...

Ah the healthcare industry - I work in it as well. I compare my job to playing whack-a-mole all day long...

carrie said...

Yes, but do you actually get to whack the mole?

That would make it easier. And more entertaining.

Jeanne said...

Stats are a fickle friend - one can get them to bend in any direction one wants; make them "reveal" exactly the right things to prove a dogmatic belief - no matter how inane.

Thanks, carrie!

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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