Abbott Laboratories, makers of Similac baby formula, recently announced that they are reducing the calories in their commonly used formulas by one calorie per ounce. The reason they are doing it shows us just how out of control, and how far away from any concept of science, the obesity epipanic has become.
Similac claims that the new formulation will make formula more like breast milk, based on the idea that breastmilk has a protective effect against lifelong “obesity.”
There is tons of controversy around the idea that breastmilk has an effect on longterm body size, but even if you believe that it does, the idea that the thing that makes the difference is one calorie per ounce is a large leap over a deep chasm. In fact, research suggests that, much like everyone who ate Snackwell’s cookies in the 90’s, babies just eat more formula when there are less calories in it. This is significant for families on a budget – unless Abbott Labs is going to reduce the cost along with the calories, buying enough diet formula to make up for the extra calories could cost families around $150 a year. So maybe this is just a profit driver for Abbot labs and they actually aren’t a “lab” full of idiots who don’t know the first adage of research – correlation never ever implies causation.
A lot of the
interventions experiments being tried on babies and children are based on simple observational correlation by people who don’t seem to have done even a basic literature review. People say “babies who are breastfed are less likely to be “obese” or “babies who gain less weight at certain times tend to weight less as adults.” so people go about creating interventions based on that information.
This is deeply problematic – correlation means that two things happen at the same time enough of the time to be statistically interesting, but we still don’t know the nature of their relationship – does A cause B? Does B cause A? Does C cause A and B? Is it all just a coincidence? If you don’t know causation then creating interventions can be tricky.
Here’s a made up example: Often in August in the United States the rates of ice cream eaten and the rates of murder both go up. So ice cream eating and murder are correlated. So I, Polly Public Health Person, decide it’s obvious that ice cream eating leads to murder, and so I cry and wail and wring my hands and shout “won’t somebody think of the children” until I convince stores to pull ice cream off the shelves. I am triumphant, for behold I have created an intervention! And yet my joy is less than full, because the rate of murders skyrockets. What the hell? It turns out that the problem is actually heat – when the heat increases people get irritable and they either eat some ice cream or they commit murder. By removing ice cream from the shelves, I created a situation in which people who would have eaten ice cream didn’t have access to it, so they ran around murdering people. Oops, sorry y’all, that’s my bad. Sincerely, Polly
That’s why having understanding of causation, which we can perhaps achieve through research, is important before we go and implement interventions like turning that Mommy and Me class into a Baby Weight Watchers Meeting. In a real life example that I first heard about in my first research class, thousands of kids died early deaths from cancer because of interventions based on correlation, this is serious stuff.
Also, it’s possible that the correlations are coincidences, here are some examples from Tyler Vigen’s great piece “Spurious Correlations”
I was recently part of a panel discussion about childhood “obesity” at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. The other people on the panel were all involved in interventions for childhood obesity and I made the point that they didn’t have any research to back up those recommendations. One of the panelists, a pediatrician who now specializes in research, said “Well it’s not like you can try to make kids fat, that’s unethical” but we’re absolutely fine with trying to make them thin and see no ethical issues there.
One of my statistics teachers used to tell us that for every correlation you find, there is a causal explanation that makes total sense, and is totally wrong. I’ll bet she’ll be explaining this to classes someday using this baby formula example.
Last Day for Your Flying Rhino’s T-shirt (and last day that this will be on the blog!)
Wednesday is the last day to get your order in for the inaugural Flying Rhinos t-shirt. Regardless of whether or not you get a t-shirt, you can participate in the Flying Rhinos group at http://fitfatties.ning.com/group/flying-rhinos
I am so very, very excited about this! The Flying Rhinos are a way for people of all sizes who want to carve out space and obtain visibility and respect for fat people in the fitness world to be public about our involvement, show our pride and solidarity, and recognize each other when we’re out and about.
What Do the Rhinos do?
We live our mission out loud, wearing our official Flying Rhinos shirts in everything from our own movement activities and classes, to organized races, sports, and events. We have our own group on the Fit Fatties Forum to discuss our training, get support, swap stories and race reports, talk about events we’re in and plan meet-ups offline to do events together and/or just hang out.
Our shirts help us show our pride and recognize each other. If you want to order a shirt either for you individually, or for your team (whether it’s for an organized sport, a 5k, a charity event or whatever) just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org with the size(s) and I’ll get you the details. We are taking requests for the current order until Wednesday, June 11th, then we’ll get the best deal we can for the number of shirts we have and split the cost evenly among the people making the order (no upcharges for larger shirts and nobody is making any money off the deal except whoever we hire to make the shirts!)
Who Can be a Rhino?
Everyone, of every size, who participates in movement at any level and is committed to body positivity is welcome to become a member of the group, and wear the official shirt. Wear it to yoga, wear it to roll your wheelchair in a 5k, wear it at the pool, wear it to your Krav Maga class, wear it to Zumba, wear it going around your block or in a marathon, put together a softball team or a team for a charity race and we’ll get you some shirts. Roll with the Rhinos for a fun, supportive, body positive, rocking good time.
How did this come about?
It started as a discussion on Ragen’s Facebook page about ridiculous names that haters call us – landwhale, hamplanet, and that day’s offering – land blimp. Seriously, land blimp. People started coming up with their own ideas and Nora suggested “Flying Rhinos”. We had been thinking about starting a group like this and the name struck us as perfect. Nora agreed to let us use the name, Sara H. designed the amazing logo and The Flying Rhinos said “Hello World!” on May 30, 2014.
Of course this is totally optional – while fat people absolutely deserve to be able to participate in whatever movement we want without shame, stigma, bullying, oppression – and deserve to have spaces to talk about that – participating in fitness doesn’t make a fat person better or worse than anyone else – it’s not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, or a reason to treat someone differently. The good fatty bad fatty dichotomy needs to die.
Like the blog? Consider becoming a member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you. I get paid for some of my speaking and writing (and do both on a sliding scale to keep it affordable), but a lot of the work I do (like answering hundreds of request for help and support every day) isn’t paid so member support makes it possible ( THANK YOU to my members, I couldn’t do this without you and I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support!) Click here for details
Here’s more cool stuff:
Are you looking for a way to do some fun movement this summer (and get prizes for it?) Consider a Fit Fatty Virtual Summer Vacation!
My Book: Fat: The Owner’s Manual The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for detail
Dance Classes: Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details