Good message, bad science

Here is a perfect case of believing what you want to believe and the importance of being a critical thinker, even I nearly got caught. Today there is a research study titled “Obesity’s Hidden Cost: Lost Productivity at Work” published which proves that obesity costs the US Economy 73.1 Billion dollars a year! I was SO excited! This study proved what I have suspected all along, … or does it?

My brain went into red-alert in the third sentence with this:

“… in a study funded by Allergan Inc., which makes a gastric band system for obesity surgery”

Hmmm, thats a conflict of interest if I ever saw one. Of course a study they fund is going to ‘prove’ that obesity costs the nation gobs of money because if medicare and insurance companies were convinced by this study to be more liberal in covering gastric bypass surgery, Allergan would make gobs of money selling their bands – how cozy.

The second thing I was wondering was how they came up with the 73.1 Billion dollar figure, thats a serious pot of money! Now remember, I truly wanted to beleive this article but even I did a pillow-scream when I found out how they came up with their ridiculous number. They asked obese people to rate how they thought their health was on a given week on a scale of 1 to 1o, then …

“If a person gave an answer of 3 (with zero being fully productive and 10 being not productive at all), the researchers assumed that person was 30% less productive.”

That is whacky! There is no reason even to suspect a correlation. From personal experience, I can tell you that some of my most productive times at work are when I am sick. The misery and pain increase my ability to focus and concentrate.
The most important time to be a critical thinker is not when there is a report that you disagree with, you are naturally skeptical about those reports, but rather the time you need to be very skeptical is when a report comes out confirming what you already know or believe!
Today newswires all over the country are going to pick up this ‘story’ and many will use the sensationalistic headline “Obesity costs America 73 Billion a year!” and the sad thing is that many will just nod their head and move on without asking any critical questions.

5 thoughts on “Good message, bad science”

  1. A peer reviewed study by the Scottish government estimated that obesity costs the Scottish economy £450 million. I can use this to estimate the US figure as follows: (0.45*1.57)*(48,000/(1.57*15,523))*(307,000,000/5,000,000) = $85.5 billion so the figure doesn't seem ridiculous as you say, even if the methodology is stupid. The first term of my formula is pound to dollar conversion. Second is scale parameter for the greater relative wealth of the US economy, taken from per capita GDP. Third is a scale parameter for the larger population in the US. Obviously a gross approximation but me thinks the real figure will be in the ballpark.

  2. Sage wisdom if I've ever heard it… "The most important time to be a critical thinker is not when there is a report that you disagree with, you are naturally skeptical about those reports, but rather the time you need to be very skeptical is when a report comes out confirming what you already know or believe!" Thank you for that nugget Scooby!!!

  3. As a natural skeptic myself, I am regularly stunned at the poor science (if it can even be called science) that is put into so many of these medical studies that make the headlines. One has to look carefully at any such study, the way you did, to find the ones that are rigorously science based.

  4. If someone did science that way, they'd be excommunicated from the scientific community. We'll spotted Scooby!

  5. One of the reasons you have lots of followers is because you are not interested in our money, you just want to get back to the community what bodybuilding has done for you. You just want everyone to know how bad it is not to have a healthy life and want to save as many people as possible, but EVERYBODY ELSE don't care about anything but money. they don't care about our health, or our self esteem, or our lives at all, all they want is money. And the worst thing is many people actually believe these things and believe all the the infomercials say (pills, belts, shoes, rings, you name it). I'm sick of it. what can we do to help Scooby?

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