Saturday, October 29, 2011

Obesity Concerns

At a number of recent city events I heard several people mention the obesity problem facing our kids.

Diabetes and obesity is a problem for our nation, but the problem is unevenly distributed geographically and socioeconomically. Darker colors in the map below indicate greater obesity. There are lower levels of obesity in coastal California.

Understanding mechanisms (ie causes) related to natural phenomenon is tough without access to good experimental data. Observational data are useful in helping describe patterns and identifying associations.

Correlation doesn't equal causation. Correlation can help test ideas about mechanisms, but there is nothing better than good ol' experimental data to cleanly demonstrate causation. Check out this next map. The lack of an automobile and distance to a supermarket is spatially correlated with obesity.

Maybe we should fund a study that gives people cars and see if that results in an improvement in their obesity? Automobiles could be a solution to obesity. Well, maybe not.

On the other side, I've reviewed several epidemiological studies of obesity and urban design that are based on observational associations (correlations). Even for an observational study, the conclusions that could be drawn were fairly thin, however they were exciting because they pointed toward public policies that don't require direct intervention at the patient level. However, there were still too many alternative explanations that can explain the patterns seen in those studies, that had not been strongly tested. This doesn't mean the authors were barking up the wrong tree, only that we can't yet see clearly what climbed out on a limb.

Fortunately for our local kids, the issue is less pressing than in other areas of the country. Our kids have a relatively low level of obesity. Here are some data from last year's California Healthy Kids Survey. These BMI distributions are from our local high schools.

There are lots of cool reasons, which I support, for improving our infrastructure. Doing it because we want to keep our kids from becoming obese is not as strong a justification as others.


  1. Check out the correlation between the weight of Encinitas council members and their votes on development and upzoning.

    Now that's a p-value!

  2. There is even a bigger correlation between council members weight and votes in support to spiking Employees Pensions, Pay and benefits in 2005. The fat must pollute their brains and cause them to want to destroy the financial future of Encinitas.

    There is a simple solution to the obesity problem. Eat more greens than meat and sugar and get out and walk a little. Plus cancer rates and health care costs in America would plunge if people didn't gorge themselves with Sugar and Meat.

    Watch the movies:

    "Fork Over Knives",


    "Fat, Sick and Dying"

    and Wall E

    and you will get it.

    Obesity is purely self imposed by ignorance. Its that simple. Its that sad.

  3. The maps also correlate, significantly, to population distributions by level of education; percentage of regular church-goers; and voting patterns (Democrat, Republican, Green & other political parties and percentage of voters self-identifying as independents).

    Perhaps obesity - of the fingers - is the reason so many Encinitans can't write a check for a hundred bucks to help elect people with smarts and integrity to the City Council.

  4. Certainly, here in Encinitas we do have an obesity and diabetes issue, but mainly within our Hispanic/Latino population. It is not as simple as it sounds to address the issues when it is partly cultural, not just economics.

    While I totally disagree that the solution is simple, I do believe that addressing it with comprehensive education will at least begin to make obesity and type 2 diabetes a choice rather than something that someone just happens to develop.

  5. Most fat people are ignorant and choose to be fat. Its that simple.

  6. Saw a cartoon once of a fat woman amidst a crowd of skin and bones refugees at a camp. They're all looking at her like "what gives?" and she appologetically says "I have a thyroid problem".

  7. Thyroid problems make people eat meat and sugar. good one.

    That's why Americans are so much fatter than Europeans right? Thyroids in America are so much different than in other parts of the rest of the old world.

    In America, Thyroids make you fat. Everywhere else they don't. Too funny.

  8. Genetics, physiology, hormones, behavior, diet, lifestyle.

  9. behavior, diet, lifestyle. genetics, and the rest. In that order.


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