Monday, March 08, 2010

New study obese children more likely to die earlier

An article in the news recently, shouted that being obese as a child doubled the risk of premature death (i.e. death before the age of 55).

This was based on a study appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine in the Feb 10, 2010 issue and is online as the full text version, accessible without a subscription.

The news reporting on this study ranged from total misreporting -one source gave the deaths which "counted" as 559 deaths - cohort was 4857 people born from 1945 to 1984 - other sources were more accurate about the 166 deaths in the cohort which "counted". The cohort came from the Gila River Reservation in Arizona.

However, for some reason, (I could speculate on this but I won't) the researchers included deaths from alcholism/drug use and infectious disease in the deaths from which they figured that those who were obese as kids were two times likely to die prematurely of.

The breakdown on the causes of death in the 166 who died prematurely, (which is still a low number) out of the 4857 member cohort was as follows - according to the study article:

A total of 166 deaths were from endogenous causes: 59 were attributed to alcoholic liver disease, 22 to cardiovascular disease, 21 to infections, 12 to cancer, 10 to diabetes or diabetic nephropathy, 9 to acute alcoholic poisoning or drug overdose, and 33 to other causes

Several things should be taken in consideration here. The deaths from those causes which may have an obesity factor in them is only 44 individuals out of the 4857 member cohort i.e. diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Infections, alcholism, drug poisoning and "other" have no established relationship to obesity at all.

So as you can see, two times as many in a small group like 44 is not very many. And in fact, had they considered, for example, which of the 44 rode bicycles as kids, they might have found a highly significant relationship between early bicycle riding and premature death!

I am always reminded of something Science News editor Stephen Milloy quipped some time ago:

"But who needs data when you can spoon-feed junk science to a gullible media?"

Postscript: 166 premature deaths out of 4857 individuals may be a lower figure than in those who do not live on the (Native American) reservation which might suggest that reservation living might be less stressful than living elsewhere (something I've long suspected since working in a Pima Indian mission several years ago).

Also, anecdotally, I've known several who died premature deaths but none of these were obese - several were smokers however (including my own slim father who died several years before my obese mother and mother's death was a suicide). My husband's cousin was married to a person who had no risk factors at all not even smoking i.e. he ate healthy, exercised daily and was very lean. 15 years younger than she is, he died several years ago, a premature death (heart attack). She who has a high BMI, just celebrated her 74th birthday.