Good message, bad science

Here is a perfect case of believing what you want to believe and the importance of being a critical thinker, even I nearly got caught. Today there is a research study titled “Obesity’s Hidden Cost: Lost Productivity at Work” published which proves that obesity costs the US Economy 73.1 Billion dollars a year! I was SO excited! This study proved what I have suspected all along, … or does it?

My brain went into red-alert in the third sentence with this:

“… in a study funded by Allergan Inc., which makes a gastric band system for obesity surgery”

Hmmm, thats a conflict of interest if I ever saw one. Of course a study they fund is going to ‘prove’ that obesity costs the nation gobs of money because if medicare and insurance companies were convinced by this study to be more liberal in covering gastric bypass surgery, Allergan would make gobs of money selling their bands – how cozy.

The second thing I was wondering was how they came up with the 73.1 Billion dollar figure, thats a serious pot of money! Now remember, I truly wanted to beleive this article but even I did a pillow-scream when I found out how they came up with their ridiculous number. They asked obese people to rate how they thought their health was on a given week on a scale of 1 to 1o, then …

“If a person gave an answer of 3 (with zero being fully productive and 10 being not productive at all), the researchers assumed that person was 30% less productive.”

That is whacky! There is no reason even to suspect a correlation. From personal experience, I can tell you that some of my most productive times at work are when I am sick. The misery and pain increase my ability to focus and concentrate.
The most important time to be a critical thinker is not when there is a report that you disagree with, you are naturally skeptical about those reports, but rather the time you need to be very skeptical is when a report comes out confirming what you already know or believe!
Today newswires all over the country are going to pick up this ‘story’ and many will use the sensationalistic headline “Obesity costs America 73 Billion a year!” and the sad thing is that many will just nod their head and move on without asking any critical questions.