Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The cost of obesity and other spin

It's good to know how to interpret spin - that's the newspaper word for what Orwell called "Newspeak".

For example, we are told that obesity contributes to 100,000 deaths each year. Now that sounds like a lot except it's only a drop in the bucket in the total yearly deaths.

In 2002, in the USA, the death toll was 2,400,300. Since obesity apparently contributed to 100,000 of these, that means obesity _did not_ contribute to 2,300,300 deaths. Expressed in percentages, that's 4 percent of the deaths per year, obesity had a part in! Which means obesity did not have a part in 96 percent of the deaths per year!

Looks a bit different if we look at the whole picture, doesn't it? Why do we even think obesity is any kind of "problem"? Maybe the real problem are those who wish to sell us obesity solutions?

Even if we take the older figure of obesity contributes to 300,000 deaths a year, that's still 2.1 million deaths that obesity doesn't contribute to, isn't it.

The latest spin we are hearing is how expensive obesity is and how if we just lose 10 lbs we will save the health care system, millions.

The only way obesity can get expensive is with weight loss surgery. The average weight loss surgery costs 15,000 and they can cost as much as $50,000 and guess who pays for it.

Especially considering that in folks with BMI's over 50 (which most people seeking weight loss surgeries are), there is a 34 percent failure rate according to several studies.

Here's the cite for one of these studies - this is not available on the web (we wouldn't want folks seeking weight loss surgery to see stuff like this, would we?)

Annals of Surgery. 244(5):734-740, November 2006.
Christou, Nicolas V. MD, PhD; Look, Didier MD; MacLean, Lloyd D. MD, PhD

Objective: To complete a long-term (>10 years) follow-up of patients undergoing isolated roux-en-Y gastric bypass for severe obesity.
As you can see, this was a study on gastric bypass which is supposed to be so powerful in keeping off weight!

Actually, the longer a person lives, the more expensive their health care costs so if people of size really don't live as long as slim folks, then they would cost less, says an AP story which circulated recently.

LONDON - Preventing obesity and smoking can save lives, but it doesn’t save money, researchers reported Monday.

It costs more to care for healthy people who live years longer, according to a Dutch study that counters the common perception that preventing obesity would save governments millions of dollars.

“It was a small surprise,” said Pieter van Baal, an economist at the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, who led the study. “But it also makes sense. If you live longer, then you cost the health system more.”

Doing the math, thin people if they do live the longest, are going to cost us the most money!

Smoking contributes to 400,000 deaths a year... that's still over 2 million deaths than neither smoking nor obesity contribute to.

Back to the gastric bypass, it kills off 2 percent of those who have it, within 30 days of surgery so would that outweigh the outrageous cost per surgery, most of which is paid for by insurance and premiums are passed down to other insured? (cite: death rate 2 percent within 30 days of surgery from 62,000 patients: report delivered to the College of surgeons in Oct 21, 2003.[Study title: The Impact of Bariatric Surgery on Patient Survival: A Population-Based Study])

Wait, I'm getting more and more confused here. If living longer costs the system more money and obesity contributes to only 4 percent of the 2.4 millions deaths a year, why are people even worried about obesity?

It's the people who live the longest who are going to cost the health care system the most.

Bottom line. The news media is not gospel. Look at the big picture and spin quickly falls apart.

And for heavens sake, don't base a surgical decision on media spin!

1 comment:

.. said...

Wow! I like you! ^_^

I did something similar to this (As did Sandy) where we both put the numbers into percentages. It makes the death rate less than 1%. OH NOES! ITZ DEADLY!!! OMG! PFFT :P