The New York Times published this rather startling headline today, "Obesity Rate For Young Children Plummets 43% In A Decade." Wow. This is good news. It's time to break out the margaritas and guacamole dip. In fact, the news is so good that it immediately raised my suspicion of its authenticity. Societal changes in health don't usually demonstrate such drastic changes in so short a time as ten years. Chronic human conditions like obesity and smoking take decades and generations to show any meaningful differences. Naturally I delved deeper into the article.
The paper was trumpeting the results of a survey published in JAMA that was conducted by the CDC. The government agency measured the heights and weights of 9,120 individuals, including infants and toddlers, in 2011-2012. They then compared the results to similar measurements made in the last ten years. For this latest survey they noted that an elevated weight vs. height ratio above the 95th percentile, indicative of obesity, was found in 8.1% of infants and toddlers, 16.9% of 2-19 year olds, and 35% of adults older than 20. Hmm. Those numbers don't sound that different from the background information written in the very first line of the article, that one-third of adults and 17% of youth are obese and haven't changed from the 2003-2004 period to 2009-2010.
To find ANY good news in the data, you have to finely parse the data into a tiny cohort of 2-5 year olds. There, the CDC discovered that obesity rates had dropped from 13.9% to 8.4% or 39.5%. To reach the hyperventilatory number of 43%, the NYT rounded the numbers to 14% and 8% which will give the 43% reduction in its screaming headline.
Naturally the liberal mouthpiece that is the NYT immediately attributed this bit of good news to Michelle Obama's programs to combat obesity. Since she has only been First Lady for the last six years, the reduction in obesity among five year olds fits nicely into this theory. Mrs. Obama becomes First Lady, starts a war on obesity, and wouldn't you know it a quick five years later kids are losing weight left and right.
While I admire Mrs. Obama's public service trying to decrease the obesity rate in America, these numbers don't come anywhere close to proving that our country has turned a corner. First of all, a survey of 310 million Americans by measuring a measly 9,120 individuals sounds awfully selective. And then to single out an even smaller number of individuals in a certain age bracket makes the results almost meaningless. That's like saying Americans have now forgone gas guzzling cars because out of hundreds of millions of vehicles on the road, a few people are buy Teslas.
The way the huge reduction in obesity was calculated also doesn't make sense. It's true that eight is 43% less than fourteen. But is that how those numbers should be computed? I would think that a more accurate way to properly arrive at the results is to start with the statement that fourteen out of one hundred people were obese. Now there are only eight out of one hundred. While any abatement in the growth of obesity is welcome, suddenly the new numbers don't sound so impressive anymore.
Finally, one only has to read the journal article itself to see that the researchers do not find much to celebrate in their survey. Under Conclusions and Relevance, the authors wrote, "Overall, there have been no significant changes in obesity prevalence in youth or adults between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012." So as the NYT continues to do the cheerleading for the floundering president, one must be vigilant to propaganda masquerading as a news headline.