Junkfood Science: Rumor versus facts

February 13, 2007

Rumor versus facts

When statements are repeated often and everywhere, they become conventional wisdom. Yet, how often do we go to the source to learn if they are accurate?

Rumors, urban legends and internet jokes can be funny and all in fun, but when they substitute for the most objective, credible and comprehensive information when we're trying to make a life-and-death decision, then they aren’t fun or funny at all.

Sadly, oftentimes what we find on the internet or in the media is from someone with a vested interest or personal need to rationalize the rightness of their own decision — trying to put the best light on something. If we’re wanting to make the most informed decision for ourselves about anything that affects our health and well-being, we want and deserve unbiased information that puts any actual risks into perspective and doesn’t sugar-coat things.

Spin: As an example of the accuracy of information found on many internet chat rooms, let's look at one of the most common sayings found on bariatric surgery forums. It goes something like this:

Sure, weight loss surgery is serious, but life is full of risks. Bad things can happen all the time. I take my life into my hands every time I get into my car and drive to the store but that hasn’t stopped me from driving. It’s still a lot more dangerous to drive than it is to have surgery. And I was going to die at the weight I was, anyway.


Risks of dying by car:According to the National Center for Health Statistics at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, your annual risk of dying from a motor-vehicle accident is 0.016%.

Risks of dying from a bariatric surgery: The most objective mortality data available (on actual deaths among all those who had all types of bariatric surgeries at Medicare-approved centers from 1997 to 2002) found that the first year death rate after surgery was 4.6%.

Risks of dying from obesity: Actual mortality rates according to body mass index among a 40-year study of 1.8 million people, found the very fattest 0.2% of women at age 35 had an annual risk of dying of 0.18% (compared to 0.13% for "normal" weight women). So, by having a bariatric surgery even the heaviest woman increases her risk of dying about 45-fold.

Yes, life is full of risks and by understanding them, we can weigh them against the benefits and often reduce or avoid needless risks. Driving isn't a choice for most of us today and improves the quality of our lives but we know the risks are minor and that we can greatly lower our risks of dying in a car wreck by wearing our seat belts and not driving drunk. Bariatric surgery is an elective procedure yet the risks are not minor (even in the most carefully controlled clinical trials where patients are hand chosen and receive the best care available) and cannot just be blamed on the hospital, surgeon or patient's bad behavior.

If you’re weighing any health risks, you and your loved ones wouldn’t want to make a costly decision based upon an internet rumor.

More information on making this decision can be found here and here.

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