Friday 9 May 2014

Yet more obesity babble

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."
- H. L. Mencken 

Here we go again. From the Telegraph...

Three quarters of British men will be overweight or obese by 2030

Three quarters of British men will be overweight or obese by 2030 due to increasingly unhealthy diets and lack of exercise, a major study has warned.

This "major study" is unpublished and is only available as an abstract for a conference.

Currently around 66 per cent of men are overweight or obese and 57 per cent of women. However 74 per cent of men will be overweight or obese by 2030 and 64 per cent of women.

Evidence? There is none. It is a prediction based on the same pitiful methodology as other failed obesity predictions, ie. extrapolating the trend from the 1980s and 1990s - when obesity undoubtedly rose sharply - while ignoring the subsequent trend which is much less impressive.

And who are these impartial soothsayers?

Report author Dr Laura Webber, of the UK Health Forum, said although there was no ‘silver bullet’ for tackling the epidemic, the government must do more to restrict unhealthy food marketing and make healthy food more affordable.

Of course she does.

She is calling for a tax on sugary drinks and subsidies for fruit and vegetables.

Of course she does. Not that she's a health socialist who hates the free market, of course.

No, wait...

“The UK and Ireland, where obesity prevalence is among the highest, possess unregulated liberal market economies similar to the US, where the collective actions of big multinational food companies to maximise profit encourages over-consumption."

The UK is an unregulated liberal market economy?! My aching sides.

And the study found there was little evidence to suggest the rising rates will plateau in the near future.

This is true. They won't plateau in the near future. They plateaued in the recent past. In 2001 to be exact...

But what about that childhood obesity epidemic that will become an adult obesity epidemic in short order? That's, erm, really taking off...

These people really are shameless in the face of the facts.

Tam Fry, chairman of the Child Growth Foundation and spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said the alarming projections "look inevitable."

Inevitable? They're projections, Tam, and - like every obesity projection that preceded it - they can most charitably be described as highly dubious. Damn it, you'd have thought Tam "we have no statistics, we have no evidence" Fry would have learned his lesson after the BBC's More or Less show handed his arse to him in a top hat after he tricked the media into buying his latest hysteria at the start of the year.

Campaigners have a habit of bringing the overweight and the obese together as if they were only marginally different. Aside from the fact that Body Mass Index is a terrible measure of obesity, there is nothing particularly unhealthy about being overweight and you have to be really quite obese before your mortality risk increases (although you will be burnt as a witch if you say this in public health circles). So what's the prediction for obesity?

Dr Madina Kara, Neuroscientist at the Stroke Association, said: “These shocking findings predict that a third of British men will be obese by 2030, and a similar projection is suggested for the number of obese women.

This is a bit of a climbdown from the estimate that was made in the Lancet in 2011 which claimed that...

Half of UK men could be obese by 2030

A third is very different to a half, and both are very different to a quarter, which is what the male obesity rate has actually been for the last thirteen years. In fact, it's been slightly less than a quarter and may well continue to be less than a quarter. Or it could rise or fall. There's no way of knowing, least of all from a computer model designed by people who think that obesity is caused by the "liberal market economy".

One thing is for sure: it would take a hell of a surge for the obesity rate to reach 33 per cent, let alone 50 per cent, in the next 16 years. I'd love to know if any of the people who pump out these ridiculous predictions would be prepared to put their money where their mouths are. Are they prepared to bet on these "inevitable" outcomes? If so, I've got cash waiting.


Noah Carl said...

Nice post, Chris. What do you make of this paper?

Christopher Snowdon said...

I've written about that guy before:

As far as his methodology goes, his ecological approach makes less sense than the more obvious approach of seeing whether people who eat fast food are fatter than people who don't:

Noah Carl said...

Interesting--thanks for the links.

Malenfant said...

An interesting article in New Scientist this week, "Survival of the fattest: Why we're wrong about obesity" that has a completely different slant on obesity.

Unfortunately it's mostly behind a paywall.