Friday, April 29, 2005

Fat and Crazy

A study done over 30 years of 10,000 California residents found an increased risk of Dementia in Obese patients. They found the risk increased from 7% to 8% for overweight people and 9%for obese patients. And when broken out by gender the risk for women who were obese increased even more. The AP did a pretty good job of not claiming causality in this study.

''We really adjusted for everything under the sun that is related to dementia. We brought in stroke, high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease -- everything that has been implicated -- and yet we still found this effect,'' said the study's leader, Dr. Rachel Whitmer, gerontological epidemiologist at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Foundation. ''That suggests that there's another pathway -- it's not just that being overweight raises the risk of heart disease and diabetes and that's why these people get dementia.''

So what they are saying is they don't know what causes dementia but that they have these issues in common. Could it be related to metabolism? Or related to something like an overall healthy lifestyle? How did individual behavior factor into this study? They mention all of these health occurances but they dont' tell me about what people ate, how they lived. Also what about genetics? Could their be a gene that makes dementia more likely?

Also I think this article by the NYT should be required reading. It talks about the difference between probability and chance but I also think this excerpt below is relevant:

Innumeracy explains much of the public's confusion about the risks of various drugs and medical treatments. But not all of it. In a classic 1966 study, a group of subjects was told that a man had parked his car on a hill and that the car had rolled back into a hydrant after the man had left. The subjects were sympathetic to the man.

But a second group of subjects, told that the car had rolled into another person after the man walked away, held him responsible, even though the cause was the same.

People might chalk up a minor mishap to chance, but they are reluctant to blame a serious event on bad luck. Someone or something has to be held responsible.

But who is responsible for dementia, or even all of our health problems? It seems like we want to blame health problems on the individual, claiming that if they eat better, lose the weight, do crosswords, take this pill they will be able to live forever. And if that doesn't work we blame the doctors for not trying hard enough to save them.

But maybe some people just have another losing lottery ticket, this time in the genetic lottery.

(UPDATE: the math article link works now)

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