Why might researchers of conflicting studies have a problem with these results?

In April 2005, researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute published a study that concluded that people who are over their ideal weight but not obese actually have a lower risk of death than people who are within normal boundaries. They also stated that being underweight actually increases the risk of premature death. I saw the report in the Seattle Post-Intelligence and tracked it back to the issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (it’s available in the UoPhx online library).

Search EBSCO for Excess Deaths Associated With Underweight, Overweight, and Obesity Flegal). This study was met with both howls and hails from other researchers and the media. Here’s a snippet from the article:

“Obesity is less deadly now than in years past, and carrying a few extra pounds doesn’t appear to increase mortality at all, a study in today’s edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association showed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis also showed its own earlier estimates were overstated. Excess weight killed about 25,000 people in 2000, a dramatic drop from 365,000 deaths the CDC reported in January when the agency said excess weight and sedentary lifestyles may catch smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. In fact, people who are overweight have a lower risk of death than those of normal weight, federal researchers are reporting in an unexpected outcome to the newest and most comprehensive study of the effect of obesity.”

The researchers were described as “highly regarded and experienced scientists”. And, peers described the study methodology and data analysis as “exemplary”. However other disagreed. From the P-I article: “Dr. Joann Manson, the chief of preventive medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, pointed to her own study of nurses that found mortality risks in being overweight and even greater risks in being obese. Her study involved mostly white professional women and used different statistical methods. “We can’t afford to be complacent about the epidemic of obesity,” she said.” Obesity is big business. From weight loss programs to diet aids, from Kirstie Allie to Richard Simmons, millions of dollars are at stake.

1. What do you think about this article? What might the ramifications to the weight loss industry if being overweight really is not as much of a problem as previously thought.

2. Why might researchers of conflicting studies have a problem with these results?

3. Find an article from a newspaper or magazine that is about some new scientific study. Summarize the study as reported in the news article. Assess (as well as you can) from the news article whether the study was valid and list any concerns you have about the results. Does the article raise these concerns or did the article raise a red flag in your mind? What would you do differently?

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