Posted by Miriam Gordon on March 19, 2012
I am by no means a statistician, but I’ve worked as a medical writer and editor for long enough to know that the results of clinical trials rely heavily on statistics for their interpretation. There have been countless books written on this matter, and here’s a gem of an article in the Atlantic that sums it up nicely. But since most of us are not statisticians, we must rely on the “experts” to interpret them for us. The problem is that they can be so easily misused and misleading.
If you recall, there was a famous study by Christakis and Fowler (NEJM 2007) on the spread of obesity through social networks that relied on statistical analysis. In 2008, a refutation of this article was published by Cohen-Cole and Fletcher in the Journal of Health Economics. In fact, I would bet you a pack of bubble gum that for every statistical analysis ever published, a refutation of that analysis is subsequently published. So what are the non-statisticians to do?
I say we all need to learn to take most studies with a grain of salt, and approach them skeptically. This is something that children should be learning in school – it is essential to the scientific process. If this concept were something that all of us learned in school, we wouldn’t be so quick to jump on the published results of any study even if they would prove our dearly held beliefs.
NB: In their blog “Retraction Watch,” Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus have touched on the problems caused by faulty statistical analysis in climate change research. I hope to see more of this in the future. I attended a conference 2 days ago entitled “Bioethics Bootcamp,” sponsored by the Hastings Center, Science Writers in New York, and the National Association of Science Writers. Ivan, the Executive Director of Reuters Health, said that he routinely tells his reporters to “always carry a statistician in your back pocket.” Easier said than done, but I hope this will get easier in the future.
Posted in body image, obesity, science, Sociology, statistics, Uncategorized | Tagged: obesity, statistics | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Miriam Gordon on September 22, 2009
Tara Parker-Pope, in the health blog section of the New York Times website, addressed in her post “A Diva’s Lessons on Weight and Beauty” the scientifically based concept that controlling body weight is not a matter of will power. Thank G-d, it’s finally dawning on the New York Times’ editors that fat people actually don’t deserve to be punished for their lack of will power (particularly after that awful Times magazine cover touting Clive Thompson’s misguided article (“Are Your Friends Making You Fat?”) on Christakis and Fowler’s research).
What many people don’t understand about the very important concept that controlling body weight is not a matter of will power is that people can still be healthy, or improve their health dramatically, no matter what they weigh. Everyone can make changes in their lives that will improve their health. It is absolutely true that a sedentary lifestyle combined with poor eating habits is clearly linked with disease, such as diabetes and heart disease. The important thing is the process of learning to incorporate healthier habits, while doing away with prejudice or discrimination against fat people. Shaming fat people will not lead to improvement in anyone’s health. Instead, it will continue to engender low self-esteem, unhealthy dieting practices that will slow down metabolic rates, and eating disorders. In short, the focus should be on learning to live a healthier lifestyle that doesn’t involve beating oneself up on a regular basis, based on one’s appearance or a number on a scale. Check out Linda Bacon’s website and the website for the Association for Size Diversity and Health.
Posted in biology, body image, health, obesity | Tagged: fat, health, obesity, weight | 5 Comments »
Posted by Miriam Gordon on August 10, 2009
After acquiring the book almost a year ago, I (again) started reading Gary Taubes’ book entitled Good Calories, Bad Calories. Based on what I’ve read so far, and knowing Gary Taubes’ background, I believe it’s a very scholarly work, and very thoroughly researched. From the title, it’s obvious that this book considers the scientific evidence for specific types of diets and how they affect body weight regulation. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in biology, health, obesity, science | Tagged: health, heart disease, obesity | 3 Comments »
Posted by Miriam Gordon on March 17, 2009
Part of the purpose of this blog is not only to examine the science behind metabolic regulation of body weight, but also to understand how current standards of beauty (read: thinness as opposed to fatness) evolved in modern Western culture. These two seemingly unrelated topics are actually very intimately tied together, as the ever-present, pervasive, all-encompassing, in-our-face images of our society’s ideals of beauty are so powerful that they have a profound effect on our perception of health. This is true for all members of our society, including health professionals. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in advertising, body image, health | Tagged: advertising, art, body image, health | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Miriam Gordon on January 4, 2009
In 2007, Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a medical sociologist at Harvard University, published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine on the effect of social networks on the prevalence of obesity. I recently came across this study online, through links in a post by a friend, and revisited the results of the study. You can view a 3-minute interview with Dr. Christakis about his study and findings here.
After watching this interview and looking over Dr. Christakis’ website, I composed this email to him: Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in obesity, Sociology | Tagged: obesity, Sociology | 1 Comment »
Posted by Miriam Gordon on October 8, 2008
A “SNP” is a single nucleotide polymorphism. Within a genetically distinct population, i.e. people of a certain ethnicity, religion, or geographic region, there are several versions of the DNA sequence of any given gene that is almost identical, with the exception of one sequence unit at a specific site. This single nucleotide variation occurs in the population at observable frequencies. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in biology, obesity, science | Tagged: colon cancer, diabetes, fat, health, obesity | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Miriam Gordon on September 18, 2008
Metformin, otherwise known as glucophage, is a medication that works to lower elevated blood sugar and help the body process the excess sugar more efficiently. However, if you have the unmitigated gall to eat sweets while taking this medication, you will be punished by having copious diarrhea. I found this out first hand. I guess this is the price I pay for feeding my addiction. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in biology, body image, health, Health at Every Size (HAES), obesity, science, Sociology | Tagged: diabetes, fat, gluttony, HAES, metformin, obesity, sloth | 10 Comments »
Posted by Miriam Gordon on September 10, 2008
Last night I came across a blog entry by Matthew Brown (
), which discussed data from the laboratory of Dr. Jeremy Gray and others on the inverse correlation of intelligence and self-control. Immediately, I thought wow, if I’m fat because of a lack of self control, does that mean I’m less intelligent than someone who is free of compulsive behaviors?* Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in biology, science, science writing | Tagged: fat, intelligence | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Miriam Gordon on September 7, 2008
Humans, mice — indeed all mammals — have two types of fat cells in their bodies; white and brown. White fat cells store energy. In contrast, brown fat cells dissipate energy as heat, thus counteracting obesity. Much to the chagrin of humans living in industrialized societies, most fat cells in our (adult) bodies are white fat cells. While this trait served our kind well throughout our evolutionary history, we now face a vast abundance of inexpensive, easily accessible, high energy content foods. This, combined with our body’s tendency to want to store up energy for times when food is scarce, leads to obesity and its accompanying adverse health effects. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have more brown fat cells and less white fat cells?* Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in biology, science | Tagged: fat, health, obesity, weight loss | Leave a Comment »