Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Telling porkies

(nb. I am not the Devil's Kitchen)

Three years ago, the government predicted that:
 One million children will be obese by 2010 if no action is taken

We were assured by the BBC that:
The government says it is the "most accurate estimate so far" of future obesity rates.

It was nothing of the sort. All they did was make the bone-headed assumption that a straight line could be drawn from the past, through the present and into the future. And then add some. It was never anything other than a wild guess designed to coincide with the appointment of Caroline Flint as "minister for fitness" and to generate some support for the campaign to force school-children to eat Jamie Oliver's horrible cooking.

Naturally, the fake charities and the rent-seeking vultures began to circle. For the National Obesity Forum, it offered another excuse to push their pharmaceutical pay-masters' "shit-yourself-thin" weight-loss drug Alli.

For that fat fascist Liam Donaldson, it provided proof that there was an "obesity time bomb" ticking away (he claims to have coined the phrase in 2002).

For cranks like Harriet Harman it provided another reason to demand more interfering bloody laws, starting with a watershed ban on 'junk food' advertising:
"Childhood obesity is one of the great challenges of our age. Many parents tell me that it is increasingly difficult to help their children to eat healthily because of the constant bombardment of adverts for junk foods."

There was never any chance that obesity would rise so quickly in such a short space of time and, today, with 2010 just two months away and the earlier scare having served its purpose, the government has issued new figures. In every case, the estimates have dropped, in many instances dramatically. 

They originally predicted that 30% of 12-19 year old girls would be obese. That figure has now been downgraded to just 9%. The prediction for boys in the same age bracket has been reduced from 19% to a mere 6%. 34% of girls between the age of 2 and 11 were supposed to be overweight by 2010. Now, they say only 17% will be - half the earlier figure. Bear in mind that these forecasts were only made three years ago. How can anyone - even these hopeless pecker-heads - get it so wrong?

The BBC describes this as a "levelling off" of childhood obesity rates, as if these figures were ever anything other than figments of the imagination. And rather than admit that their earlier estimates were pulled out of their overpaid arses, campaigners and politicians are claiming that this last-minute reassessment vindicates their policies. 

Gillian Merron, Minister for Public Health, said:
"The encouraging news that child obesity may be levelling off is thanks to the hard work of families, schools and the NHS, supported by government initiatives such as 5 A Day and Healthy Schools."

"But obesity levels are still too high and we need to keep the momentum going – that's why I'm delighted to see our campaigns such as the Change4Life Healthy Towns being so successful."

Christine Haigh, of the Children's Food Campaign, didn't miss the opportunity to demand further coercive legislation: 
"These figures are good news and seem to show that some of the initiatives on childhood obesity are working. But despite the speed of growth in obesity seeming to slow, the numbers of obese children is still rising [that's a lie - Filthy] and these figures suggest that the government will miss its current obesity target in 2020."

"This is not the time to go slow on our efforts to cut obesity and there is still an urgent need for government to do more to protect children from the worst excesses of junk food marketing, stop product placement of junk food on TV and tell industry to improve food labelling."

Headlines such as 'Child obesity is levelling off' and 'Child obesity has peaked' reinforce the impression that the Change4Life campaign (start date: Jan 2009) and other cash-burning projects have finally defused the time bomb. 

What goes unsaid is that child obesity rates peaked way back in 2004. Office National Statistics figures show that even while the panic was being generated in 2006, childhood obesity was not just "levelling off" but falling.

This closely mirrors the situation with Sir Liam Donaldson's other bête noire, binge-drinking. Just as alcohol consumption started falling in 2004, so too did rates of childhood obesity. In both cases, the supposed epidemic began to subside several years before these clowns started passing stupid laws and spending vasts sums of money.

It's the same old story. Come up with a fantastically pessimistic prediction which requires urgent and enormously expensive action and then claim credit when the nightmare scenario fails to materialise (see also swine 'flu). What goes unmentioned - because it can never be conclusively proved - is that the nightmare scenario was never going to happen in the first place.


Not a sheep said...

It's all about "them" controlling "us" and I am not sure it's going to be any better under David Cameron's Conservatives.

David Davis (Libertarian Alliance) said...

Advertising does not lead demand, nor can it create it. It can only engender a sales increase if the market already desires the goods.

In the early 1970s, the "big breweries" invested about £7 million (about £150 million in today's money) in advertising "lager". Nobody wanted the stuff as we all wanted to drink bitter. So the got taken to the cleaners, and lager sales didn't take off for at least 8 years. they lost a packet, accelerated by advertising.

Advertising is the best way of promoting a good product that people already want, and of garrotting a bad one that they don't want.

Consequently, it is the whipping-boy of GramscoFabaiNazis, who like their children to have careers in it, as it is lovely and sexy and they use Apple-Macs all the time, but do not choose to understand its role in economics.

Budgie said...

Come on, Filthy Smoker, there's still Christmas to come - that'll fatten 'em up!

Anyway it's the politicians job to make us all worried so that they can save us. You wouldn't want them having to get real jobs would you?

Mitch said...

So they found a problem that was solving itself and claimed a victory.....how very nulabia.

the a&e charge nurse said...

Maybe the rest of the world is lying as well? According to this lot;
"The prevalence of childhood overweight has increased in almost all countries for which data are available".

The Ozzies, Yanks & Krauts are all doing their bit to bolster the burgeoning army of roly polys.
I anticipate 'gastric banding' and 'orlistat' will slip into every day paralance in exactly the same way that liposuction has?

lilith said...

"The prevalence of childhood overweight has increased in almost all countries for which data are available".

"Er, yeah, we could only get data for Scotland, USA, Wales and England..."

DocBud said...

It is quite possible to do one's own research in this area. It helps if you have school age children as this allows you to hang around schools without attracting the attention of plod. Look around your child's school and work out the ratio of healthy looking kids to those whose weight you'd be concerned about if they were your child. I rarely find more than one overweight child in 20.

This causes me to conclude that either the research showing a problem is bollocks or somewhere there is a city with almost 100% fat people who skew the figures.

Then there is the question of whether or not we should be worried if we are a little podgy ourselves. This study suggests not:


But for political reasons they cook the results:

Using relative risks from the combined survey data, we estimated that 111 909 excess deaths in 2000 were associated with obesity (BMI ≥30). Of the excess deaths associated with obesity, the majority (82 066 deaths) occurred in individuals with BMI 35 or greater. Overweight was associated with a slight reduction in mortality (–86 094 deaths) relative to the normal weight category. Thus, for overweight and obesity combined (BMI ≥25), our estimate was 25 814 excess deaths (95% CI, –86 284 to 137 913) in 2000, arrived at by adding the estimate for obesity to the estimate for overweight.

Don't you just love the -86094 deaths being a slight reduction and the combining of overweight and obese to hide that their results say being overweight is healthiest.

And do fat children become fat adults, this study suggests not:


However, there has to be a problem to feed the truly obese, obesity monstor in the form of statist politicians, fake charities and pharmaceutical companies.

Generalfeldmarschall said...

Warning: O/T

Same thing with Climate Change (a.k.a. AGW). 5 years on, the fall in temperature will be attributed to the 'efforts of ..... '

Roger Thornhill said...

I await the "levelling off" of climate change...

the a&e charge nurse said...

Dr Budd - this item puts the ratio of young porkers at more like 1 in 6 rather than the 1 in 20 observed by yourself.
Perhaps you are mistaking 'puppy fat' for obesity?

One clue, of course, is the girth of the parents - those with a BMI >30 are at least 25% more likely to preside over a family of junior fatties.

DocBud said...

"young porkers" That's a nice term for pre-school children from a health professional.

The problem is more likely the measurement technique, BMI is a poor measure of weight in children:


And the fact that certain groups have an agenda, e.g. the National Obesity Forum charity in the Mirror article, the professionally concerned about other people such as Liberal Democrats' health spokesman, Norman Lamb, and commercial interests. They need a perpetual problem to solve, they don't want to actually solve it. They'd rather label as obese children who aren't than give up the good fight.

the a&e charge nurse said...

"And the fact that certain groups have an agenda", yes, to reduce the growing number of fatties, oops, I mean those those with a potentially dangerous BMI.
Ricky Gervais discusses the issue here

If something poses a health risk, like obesity, then at the very least people should have a bit of info about it, surely?

Look at the older generation of smokers who suffered later in life then rightly pointed out that nobody had ever warned them (as risks began to emerge) of the dangers related smoking.

Anonymous said...

@A&E: "If something poses a health risk, like obesity, then at the very least people should have a bit of info about it, surely?"

Yes, absolutely, no problem with information. It's undoubtably A Good Thing; it'll help people make their minds up. It's the extra legislation being passed that I have a problem with.

1. The knowledge that junk food will have a detrimental effect on one's health doesn't automatically make one give up eating junk food. That is to say, putting big labels on things and running adverts won't automatically improve the health of the nation, because people tend to grasp the concept that too much junk food is bad for them, but eat it anyway.

2. As for people who don't grasp that concept... well, I'm finding it very hard to care what happens to them. Presumably that level of befuddlement would require a guardian or social worker's supervision? In which case, problem solved; the guardian won't let them eat nothing but junk food.

3. The legislation itself is unbelievably namby pamby. If these people had the courage of their convictions, they'd just ban junk food/smoking/drinking. I'd like them to try it; they'd be wiped out forever at the next election, but at least they'd have had some kind of intellectual courage for once.

I suppose a counter-argument is that my second objection could apply to kids. They might not get that eating nothing but maccy d's will lead to dodgy health. That's bad parenting, but I don't think the government should step in here. Just as it's not my job to raise other peoples' godawful brats, it's not really the government's either, on the grounds that it will just take even more responsibility away from parents, thus making them far more irresponsible with their charges.

Oh... and the paper you cited at [http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a743920047~db=all~order=page] collated data from papers published from 1988 to 2005 - quite likely, anything published in 2005 wouldn't have the full data for that year. Obesity was indeed rising from '88 to '04, but since 2005 has started declining; the thrust of this post covers that decline and its misreporting in various media.

Anonymous said...

Oops! [http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a743920047~db=all~order=page] collated date from 1980 to 2005. Soz.

the a&e charge nurse said...

Anonyno - obesity rates amongst 5-10 year olds increased from 1.2% in 1984 to 6.6% by 2002/3.

If something accelerates at such a rate then it is hardly surprising that a few troughs occur here and there (if that is actually the case) but the overall picture is one of significant change in average BMI when we look back at the last few decades.

What we do about it is another matter, of course.

What worries some people is the fact children are developing bad eating habits because obesity is increasingly a transgenerational problem, and the children themselves are profoundly influenced by the unhealthy food preferences of their parents.

Centaur said...

I've seen this trick before. Wait until the trend has peaked, then do something, then claim the credit for the reduction which you knew was going to occur anyway. Utterly despicable.

Anonymous said...

@A&E: "If something accelerates at such a rate then it is hardly surprising that a few troughs occur here and there (if that is actually the case) but the overall picture is one of significant change in average BMI when we look back at the last few decades."

Potayto, potahto, I think; we could just as easily claim that there has been a marked downward trend since 2004. Though a look at that article does at least show that household income is having only a marginal effect on obesity - who says the class gap is widening?

Child obesity has undoubtably increased over the last few decades, but then, so has prosperity. Perhaps we eat more because we can afford to eat more.

"What worries some people is the fact children are developing bad eating habits because obesity is increasingly a transgenerational problem, and the children themselves are profoundly influenced by the unhealthy food preferences of their parents."

A valid point, to be sure, but not a worry I share. I worry about my own diet, and should I ever accidentally have children, I'll certainly worry about their diet. I also contribute to the funding of health services, involuntarily and voluntarily. Beyond that, there's no further part for me to play, and I'd argue that this is the most productive viewpoint to have in this instance.

DocBud said...

So far, the a&e charge nurse, you have not answered my points about: overweight being positively healthy and mildly obese not being a huge (no pun intended) problem, obese children not necessarily turning into obese adults and measurement techniques distorting the statistics that you then happily quote again.

At the 6.6% you quote, this is an individual problem, not a societal one, and the matter should be dealt with solely between patient, parents and doctor.

I don't believe politicians and fake charities are really trying to solve a problem because if they were they'd quantify it correctly and attack it effectively, i.e. on an individual basis. Those selling dieting products simply want people to believe they have a problem so they buy their products.


As my first reference showed, the information being presented is being distorted to suit an agenda and would actually try and persuade healthy people to lose weight and become less healthy.

Junk food is an oxymoron, a macca's burger and fries has nutritional value and can form part of a balanced diet (admittedly not mine, I prefer to substitute a few pints of bitter). As with anything, balance and moderation are ideal, a diet of only lettuce would be as bad as a diet of only maccas.

For me, it is nobody's business but ours what my family I eat and drink and I strongly resent my money being taken off me to give me advise I neither want nor asked for and to give to fake charities funds to lobby the government to restrict my freedom to do as I please.

dave said...

Caroline Flint.
Don't you just want to fuck her up the arse until she squeals.
I know I do.
Sorry, policy about obesity?
What's that then?

Anonymous said...

New Labour - running around squealing about "evidence driven policy making" whilst actually indulging almost exclusively in "policy driven evidence making"

Unashamedly nicked

The whole putrid, rotten edifice still stinks and the self aggrandising politicos and quangocrats scurry around looking for fresh hobby horses to clamber aboard. All busying themselves peculating away like there's no tomorrow - when are we going to remove their tomorrows ?

They've ruined ours.

David Gillies said...

From a health standpoint, BMI is about as much use as a chocolate teapot. Even body fat percentage is only vaguely diagnostic. Bloodwork is everything (most important: fasting glucose, glycosated haemoglobin, lipids, creatinine). I moved, in the space of six months, from being overweight (173cm, 85kg) to 'normal' (65kg). That's three stone. I had to put 20cm of extra holes in my belt. Anthropometric tests put me at 16% body fat. Do I exercise more? A bit (I do ab crunches and I walk a lot). Has my diet changed? Thoroughly. I eat fewer than 50g of carbohydrates in a typical day and I get most of my calories through protein and fat. I just scoffed two inch-thick steaks and two dozen Brussels Sprouts. Why? Because I'm Type II diabetic. Am I diabetic because I was overweight before? Possibly. But the statistical link is poor. That's immaterial. If some fat fucker says, "it's genetic," that's just a cop-out. Eat less than you expend and you will lose weight. Never mind changes in basal metabolic rate or ketosis or whatever, that's just thermodynamics. You have to do it in a healthy manner, but anyone who's 300lbs and still blaming it on their glands is no different from a heroin addict who blames the company he keeps. For me, the partial vision loss and constant neuralgia is a damn good motivator.

Is is hard? Oh God, so very hard. Is it doable? Definitely.

Unknown said...

I couldn't agree more Dave.

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