Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Hanging out with fat people can make YOU fat - 2

I know I already did a blog on this study but since it is an ongoing news item, I feel compelled to talk more about it, what the scientists might have meant to do (which was totally misunderstood partially because of an error on the part of the scientists) and more.

This study published in the New England Journal of medicine, which found that having fat friends raised the probability of YOU gaining weight, was likely, originated to point out that if you 'hang out' with friends who like to go out and eat huge gourmet meals, you are more likely to gain weight than if you have friends who are on a diet and eat at "soup or salad". And indeed, the Washington Post's "Lean Plate" club addressed the study from that angle.

However, the way that the study was done rendered the findings, invalid. The researchers used methods not appropriate for that type of study, and data which was generalized existent data and therefore lacking many details which might have changed the outcome (called a "data dredge" study). And the news media took the study in a more global sociological setting, instead of realizing what the actual bottom line of the study was probably meant to be i.e. that being around friends who indulge in a lot of rich eating OR drinking to excess OR using party drugs or gaming or hunting or playing music can be an influence on how much YOU indulge in these things. That's kind of a no brainer and one cannot help asking why they needed a study to prove that!

It also wrongly assumed that if you have friends who enjoy eating a lot of food, they will likely be fat. In truth, as an overwhelming body of scientific research has suggested, fatness may be as genetic or close to it, as the color of your hair.

For example, if you have ever seen those eating contests, most of the people IN THEM are slim and only one or two are very fat, thus suggesting that many people can eat large amounts of food without it affecting their girth.

Unfortunately, what this study published in the NEJ may do, is, effectually promote discrimination against people of size possibly because the researchers SPECIFIED fat people instead of more correctly specifying people who enjoy eating a lot of food which can include fat OR slim people. But then, using that generalized set of data, how would they discern how much the individuals of the cohort ate? It was a quick and sloppy solution to assume that it was the fat people who were the ones overeating - but a quick and sloppy solution tends to result in a quick and sloppy study with invalid conclusions. That's a no brainer also.

It should be noted that in the (unpublished as yet) Williams studies which polled catering companies, used to cater the conventions for fat activist groups, the researcher, educator, Russell Williams, found that 50 percent of the caterers stated that the fat people at the convention ate the SAME amount as those of the general population at other conventions and 50 percent of the caterers stated that the fat people ATE LESS food than those of the general population! The study is still, as we speak, ongoing...

Noteworthy was an article which highlighted a group of studies overwhelmingly suggesting the genetic underpinnings to size and fatness:

>>The report released by the New England Journal
> of Medicine is flawed. These ...researchers took collected
> data from an existing study whose focus was not on weight and size,
> the same study just used to report that diet soda is just as bad for
> you as regular soda, did some data mining and presented selected
> results tailored to support their own prejudices. None of their
> statistics are standard. ...
> As an example of the misinformation, this report stated, "The fact
> that the increase in obesity during this period cannot be explained
> by genetics." More and more legitimate research is finding the
> genetic link to size. Let's look at an example. Studies by Dr.
> Albert Stunkard of the University of Pennsylvania showed that:
> * 70 percent of the variation in peoples' weights may be
> accounted for by inheritance, meaning weight is more strongly
> inherited than nearly any other condition, including mental illness,
> breast cancer or heart disease.
> * There is a clear relation between the body-mass index of
> biologic parents and the weight class of adoptees, suggesting that
> genetic influences are important determinants of body fatness.
> * There is no relation between the body-mass index of adoptive
> parents and the weight class of adoptees, suggesting that childhood
> family environment has little or no effect on body size."
> * Identical twins have nearly identical body mass indexes,
> whether they have been reared apart or together.
> Bob Schwartz, author of Diets Don't Work found that by putting his
> thin clients on weight-loss diets, they gained weight. Maybe we
> should take a closer look at the influence of weight loss dieting.
> Quite possibly when thin friends go on diets with their fat friends
> to lend their support, they end up gaining weight. It has already
> been proven that pounds lost plus additional pounds are regained
> after one has stopped the severe restrictions of weight loss dieting
> in more than 95% of dieters

from a press release from

I hope that people will not take this study seriously except for what likely was the original intention - choose your friends wisely - if you spend a lot of time with friends who are gambling, chances are that's what YOU will be doing with them which may or may not be how you REALLY want to be spending your time. In the same vein, if you have friends who love to do dinner and serve large amounts of gourmet food, you may be faced with either sitting there and watching them eat or over-indulging yourself. We have a slim friend who is a gourmet cook and always wanted to invite us for dinner. When we went I ate sparingly - he got insulted and never invited us again. Oh well. :)

If you want to spend more time exploring this study further, here are some excellent resources:

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