Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Quick and Pudgy- Gov't Follows Intuition not Data

This piece of (literally) yesterday's news is worth reading. The CDC, due to statistical maladjustments, may have overstated the risk of the obesity epidemic by a multiple of ten or more:

The article notes that not only may the "normal" weight used as the anchor for obesity tables be set too low, but heavier people are doing a better job of maintaining their blood pressure and overall fitness than previously assumed. We all know being too heavy isn't healthful. The chafing on the inner thighs and shortness of breath after climbing the front porch stairs tells us that. However, if the CDC's corrections hold, you're at greater risk of dying from a car accident or actual undernourishment, ironically enough.

But what makes this truly a government-style fiasco is not the miscalculation, but that accurate data isn't going to change how they spend our money. Though I've changed the order of occurrence to make the point, examine these two quotes from the article.

In recent years, the government has spent millions of dollars fighting obesity and publicizing the message that two out of three American adults are overweight or obese, and at higher risk for heart disease, arthritis and diabetes.

CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said because of the uncertainty in calculating the health effects of being overweight, the CDC is not going to use the new figure of 25,814 [deaths per annum] in its public awareness campaigns. And it is not going to scale back its fight against obesity.

That means they refuse to spend any less of our money and the Center's resources on it, no matter what the facts may be. That's using agenda and intuition, not science. I'm not saying hunches don't have their place, but label them correctly. One doctor within the article opined that a risk-assessment change in this order of magnitude begged for further corroboration, and I totally agree.

But do you think, if the new lower risks are corroborated, that the funding for weight-awareness programming will be shifted to areas of higher actual risk and impact? Or do you guess- as has happened with high-profile, low-occurrence celebrity diseases at the National Institute of Health- that the jobs and funding are locked in fat forever? Do you predict when America needs greater health concerns addressed, the CDC will simply demand a bigger budget?

Like certain aquarium fish, government entities bloat based on how much they're fed, not the size of the need they were created to meet. They resist making the thorny prioritizations of greatest good for the investment. After all, why alienate a vocal minority, especially if it has a telethon, when you can simply add budget line items?

An adaptive, incisive mind is a prerequisite of good investigation, but it's the anathema of beaurocracy, because facts just won't pay attention to their P.R. Truth is often surprising, counter-intuitive, unpalatable. It tickles me like that.

No comments: