Tag Archives: NPR

Extrapolating to Absurdity–Reporting on New Study Takes Things FAR OUT.

Extrapolating

I was driving around in my car yesterday, minding my own business, when a story came onto my local NPR station that caught my attention.  Kevin Hall PhD was on the air talking about his new study comparing how the body responds to low fat vs. low carb diets.  He was careful to state that the study compared people in carefully controlled environments as opposed to relying on food journals for information on food journals (because you KNOW us fat folks can’t be counted on to be honest about those things).  He said that the study participants were brought in for two, two-week inpatient hospital stays where every morsel of food was accounted for.  In fact, every person was fed the exact same breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for two weeks, were expected to eat all of it and were not allowed to have anything different.  (I think the study creators took their lives into their hands with this one, because if you fed me the exact same, low-calorie, diet crud for two weeks running, I’m quite sure I’d become pretty stabby.  And I don’t know what could possibly compel me to return for the second phase of that torturous crud.  But I digress.)

Kevin said all of the subjects “had obesity” which is a funny, disease-language sort of way to say they were fat.  But none of them had diabetes.  And according to Kevin, the study indicated that at a metabolic level there was very little difference in weight loss results from the low fat vs. the low carb diets.  Although, the low carb diet had a greater impact on blood glucose levels than the low fat diet.  And the low fat diet apparently led to slightly greater fat loss within the two week period than the low carb diet.  Okay.  Got it.

But then the report started to go off the rails for me.  Kevin suggested that based on this study we could extrapolate that the low-fat diet would lead to greater weight loss over the long term than the low-carb diet.  And that’s when I had to pull the car over because I was shouting at the radio.

“How can you extrapolate anything over the long term other than the notion that most of these people won’t keep the weight off or will even gain weight after this experiment,” I said.  “This study has a lot to do with metabolism but you can’t really expect to transfer the results of this study to real life!”  I tried to call in to express my opinion, but by time I got through the story was over.  So I resolved to hit the radio station website, find the study and take a look for myself.

I did just that.  And the data extrapolation situation was so much worse than I thought.  The study contained a grand total of 19 subjects.  During the first two-week stay, the subjects ate a eucaloric baseline diet for 5 days, followed by 6 days on either a reduced fat diet or a reduced carbohydrate diet.  Then there was a 2-4 week “washout period” when they went home.  After that, they returned and ate the eucaloric baseline diet for 5 days followed by a reduced fat or reduced carbohydrate diet.  Each subject switched diets for the second two week stretch. So if they did the low fat diet in the first stretch, they did the low carb diet in the second stretch and vice versa.

Okay.  So there’s some good stuff here.  The study carefully tries to control for various factors.  The food is the same each day, so there won’t be wild fluctuations there.  All subjects are, um, subjected to both diets so that helps eliminate some of the variables.  And everybody eats exactly the same thing.  Subjects spent a significant amount of time in a metabolic chamber to very carefully measure the way the calories were metabolized.  I see the point of needing this level of precision to control the variables of the experiment.

But my big, BIG problem came during the radio interview when Kevin started talking about how this could apply to real world fatties and what it would mean for them.  He suggested that over the long term (so far the study doesn’t even have 6 months worth of follow up data) the minute differences in weight loss from the two diets would accumulate and you would see significantly greater weight loss from the low-fat diet vs. the low carb diet.  This despite the overwhelming evidence outside of this study that indicates that over the true long term (2-5 years) the most likely outcome for the vast majority of the subjects is either insignificant weight loss or even weight gain.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it when science people are science-ing.  But when you extrapolate from 19 subjects over 22 days in an extremely controlled environment that is virtually impossible to replicate in the real world to what effect these diets will have over the long term in the real world, I’ve got a serious problem with that.  I have talked about it before, and I will talk about it again.  If you want to understand science, possibly the last thing on earth you should do is listen to science reporting in the mainstream media.

And I have to wonder about the millions of people who are going to hear this report and hop on the diet/shame/regain cycle all over again because science people say they should.  Because when you take science and simplify and stretch it beyond all limits in order to get a popular news story to help bump up your funding, you are behaving irresponsibly and people, especially fat people will wind up getting hurt.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. Want me to come and sort out some science reporting for your group?  Click here to learn more about hiring me as a speaker!

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Kids, Bullying and Plastic Surgery

plasticsurgeryI was somewhat floored this weekend as I listened to a brief radio report on my local public radio station about kids and plastic surgery.  The story (which made reference in the intro to Renee Zellweger’s altered appearance at a recent awards show) talked about the number of kids having plastic surgery and the reasons behind it.  The report opens by talking about the number of teenagers who have had Botox (TM) in 2013.  According to the report, that number is 17,958.  Now the report was careful to state that most of these procedures were for medical reasons.  Botox is used to treat migraines, strabismus (cross eyed) and facial spasms.  Yet when all was said and done, over 1,000 of these Botox procedures were performed on kids in America for “purely cosmetic reasons”.

Now I’m not going to tell any parent or kid what they should do with their own bodies.  It’s their body and their choice.  I don’t think I would let me kid have Botox treatments (if I had one).  But you know what, I think it’s a lot easier to judge if you are not in the situation.  In fact the report went on to state that cosmetic procedures are on the rise among young people, and experts suggest that the reasons for that rise probably include social media culture and the rise of the “selfie” as well as a rise in bullying in our schools.

My knee jerk reaction at the time was, why aren’t they fixing the BULLYING?  Why are kids undergoing the risks and rigors of plastic surgery all because kids can’t stop being mean?  And then I remembered my own school days.  There was a period in my school life, after I had moved to a new school where I was bullied relentlessly.  I was verbally abused and physically abused.  I had my property repeatedly stolen or damaged.  It was so bad, that I often got physically sick from the stress of it all.  My parents were extremely worried, but I felt that their involvement would  only make it much, much worse.  There was no surgery that could have fixed my situation.  And even if there were, I doubt we could have afforded it.  But I wonder, if there were a medical fix, that we could afford if we would have used it.  I was miserable.  My parents were deeply concerned.  Would we have undergone a medical risk if it meant that the problem would go away?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that not all people who are bullied can have that problem fixed by surgery.  The reasons for the bullying are not always physical or may not be easily physically corrected.  And even for surgery that is readily available, a whole lot of people cannot afford it.  And this lack of access to procedures that can make our social media selfie red carpet ready is just another gaping chasm between the haves and the have nots in our world.  So on the one hand I sort of feel like the families that are “opting out” of bullying by changing their physical appearance are making things even harder for the families that do not have that privilege.

It’s easy to heap scorn on the families who seem to take the whole notion of cosmetic surgery very lightly.  The report stated that husband/wife cosmetic surgeries are followed only by mommy/daughter plastic surgeries in popularity.  It’s easy to heap scorn on the privileged families who hand out boob jobs as high school graduation presents.

But I’d like to suggest that not all cases of kids and families choosing plastic surgery over bullying are quite that simple.  If I could have had a surgery to make the bullying stop, might I have done that?  I honestly don’t know.  And if I had done it, how would my life have turned out differently?  Would I be as strong?  Maybe not?  Would I be less fearful now?  Would I take greater emotional risks at this point because I spent less time as a target–less time being wounded?  And if my parents had chosen that route would they be wrong for perpetuating the need for perfection just because they wanted me to live my best life, be less in pain?

I don’t really know all the answers here, and I think that’s a good thing.  In my mind this is not a simple or black and white thing.  I sincerely believe that we need to change the culture of perfectionism, social media shallowness and cruel bullying among young people.  And I think that erasing differences by changing whatever faults the bullies choose to target in their victims ultimately make things worse for all of us.  But I think it’s important to view this subject through the lens of compassion.  Because if back then, when I was a kid, I would have been able to undergo a brief medical procedure that would make the bullying stop, even for a minute, I don’t know that I wouldn’t have done just that.

Love,  Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. Want me to come to your school and talk about bullying?  BOOK ME!

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