Junkfood Science: That’s the answer...not

September 05, 2007

That’s the answer...not

Reporters told us of a new study finding “Higher-Priced Homes Predict Lower Obesity.” This yet unpublished study deserves note only for the opportunity it provides to see one of the biggest fallacies of logic surrounding obesity and “healthy eating.”

In this paper, researchers at the University of Washington took the results from a telephone survey done in King County, a large metropolitan county in Washington state, during 1999-2003 asking people their weights and zip codes. The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) is an ongoing survey conducted by state health departments which asks people about their health, lifestyles and body measurements. Because it only calls people with land line phones and with the time to answer their lengthy questions, and does not actually examine anyone, it is increasingly being shown to not accurately reflect Americans. But the specific problems in this data, including low response rates in certain demographic groups and varying population counts in certain zip codes, aren’t the issue here.

After plotting BMIs on the map, the authors overlaid the median price of homes and found that as home prices rose, obesity rates dropped. It is already well-known that socioeconomic status and stresses are related to obesity, so this study added no new insights. The authors, however, suggest that “mapping disease rates by community and neighborhood may very well be the future of public health assessment and surveillance.”

But here is the take home lesson:

What’s the obvious “solution” to obesity that this study’s correlation suggests?

Raise the price of houses to eradicate obesity!

Think about it a minute.

It makes just as much sense as the calls to raise the cost of food or change designs in bad neighborhoods.

Correlations do not make causations, no matter how correct they may seem when we base them on what we believe to be true about the causes of obesity and health.

If you think it’s nonsensical that any public official would actually use your zip code as another health indice and use your zip code against you, then you’ll want to read today’s news from the UK:

Postcodes to define pension benefits

According to Legal & General ...the group has developed plans whereby postcodes will be used to help define pension benefits. The idea is on the basis of those who live in the more affluent and healthy areas of the UK will live longer and should therefore receive a lesser pension than those in less prosperous areas....

Using indicators of life expectancy other rather than age and sex is a natural development for the pension annuity market according to L&G. The company draws a comparison with the fact that a customer’s medical history is taken into account, along with lifestyle factors, such as high cholesterol, obesity and smoking.

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