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May 03, 2005



If I hear one more line about "hunger in America", it must be about illegal aliens.


Hmmm I think you're being a leetle bit precious here Tom. I would certainly not want to use this as evidence that "being rich makes you fat", but if obesity was 9.7% of households>60K in 1970-whenever[1] and 26.8% of households>60k today, then it would be a very weird distribution indeed that didn't support the general proposition "Being fat: not just for rednecks and blacks any more".

[1]I think the real problem here is "the 1970s". Real incomes at every point in the distribution jumped around like billy-o during the 1970s, so comparisons over that period are *very* sensitive to choice of base year.

I think that I found the dataset you're looking for awhile ago btw; if you look on Crooked Timber for a post entitled "Here's Your Fucking Latte, Sir" there's a link to it.

John Anderson

"if obesity was 9.7% of households>60K in 1970-whenever[1] and 26.8% of households>60k today"

Actually, that raises another problem: the definitions of obese and morbidly obese have changed at least twice since the 70's. And that's just BMI, which in addition to being a lousy standard (Marilyn Monroe was dangerously skinny? "Air" Jackson was obese?) keeps changing. Next change to expect there: why is BMI of 25 classed as obese when 27.3 gives best life expectancy?


Well, BMI above 25 is "overweight"; IIRC, BMI above 30 is "obese".

As to DSq, it is plausible that the doctor was testing some other hypothesis - e.g., obesity is inversely correlated with access to more expensive food - so she decided that a fixed income threshold was appropriate.

But if her current threshold picks up 40% of the population, only a Republican could conclude that she is measuring obesity among "the rich".

(That said, it is only some of the headlines that mention "rich" - the text talks about "more affluent". Well, I still say the shifting quintiles makes this an apples to french fries comparison)


I also think that these criticisms of the BMI are a bit too harsh. Pick a random member of the set "People with BMI >30" and I will grant that you might have picked a superfit footballer or bodybuilder, but I will bet dollars to Atkins-friendly donuts that you've picked a lardass. It's certainly close enough for epidemiological purposes.

I keep pointing out that the death rate in these studies is driven by the old rather than the young, and that the evolution of someone's BMI is a process with a fair bit of inertia. We really don't have a generation's worth of data to make any positive statements about the health implications of having a BMI > 30 as a teenager and staying above 30 for your whole life.

Inspector Callahan

So basically, the rich aren't necessarily getting fatter; the fat are getting richer.

If so, isn't this a good thing? (Rhetorical question, of course).

TV (Harry)

richard mcenroe

Well, I for one am deeply ashamed to live in a country whose poor people are too fat... wait a minute....


[So basically, the rich aren't necessarily getting fatter; the fat are getting richer.]

As far as I can see from Tom's numbers, this migration effect could only account for half of the observed effect.


I have no doubt that obesity is on the uptick, regardless of whether this study is poorlt designed. However, one of the stories to which I linked led with this:

The prevalence of obesity is growing three times faster among Americans who make more than $60,000 a year than it is among their low-income neighbors, said a study being presented Monday...

Now, subject to the caveat that I don't know what the study said versus what the press reported, if the migration effect can account for half of the observed increase, then how sure is anyone that the rate is growing three times as quickly among the affluent?


TM: I'll admit, without bothering to read all the cited articles--other than to read the quotes you've provided, especially the one above at 2:40pm--"the prevalence of obesity is growing three times faster..."--is simply the contrast in the rate of growth.

If, among low-incomes, the prevalence *was* 30%, and is now 33%, the growth in the rate of prevalence is 10%.

If, among affluent, the prevalence *was* 10%, and is now 13%, the growth in the rate of prevalence is 30%.

Ergo, the growth in the rate of prevalence is three times faster among the affluent. That someone should be surprised by such findings is, well, surprising.

Also, the quote in the original post, that "obesity is growing fastest among...", and the "surprising finding" strikes me as equally obtuse.

Apparently these researchers believe in their all-knowing observations regarding the findings of newly conducted research, or have little experience with the analysis of data sets of population sub-groups.

Any adult walking through a shopping mall can tell you that Americans are a more robust people, as compared to 20 years ago. And just as Americans' incomes tend to be mobile--as we all start out at the bottom of the income quintiles, and move up as we age in experience and education--so would the characteristics of a more sedentary lifestyle accompany the higher standard of living associated with the climb up the income ladder. Higher incomes associated with an information economy are unquestionably far less physically intensive than the industrial economy.

Be that as it may, differences between rates of growth of sub-population variables--whatever the variable, in and of itself--reveals very little, except in this case--where the researchers were surprised--that their original premise was, perhaps, invalid.

And all I know is, I could stand to some weight, and I don't need a study to tell me that!

Bob Kunz

Well, if it's an obesity "epidemic" we don't need no steenkin' numbers!


I'm afraid that's what ramping up here.


Obviously, any decent study also has to hold constant (1) the age of the groups (older people are more likely to be heavier) and (2) ethnicity. Whether they did isn't entirely clear.

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