Big Fat Facts Big Fat Index

The BBC's Poor Reporting Encourages Employment Discrimination

Well, well, well. I woke up this morning to yet another dodgy anti-obesity story on BBC 4's Today. The print version, Being overweight 'linked to dementia', is available on the BBC website (complete with a photo of a guy whose BMI is probably 20 points beyond the "overweight" range, but whatever). However, the radio version I heard this morning is not available either in print or as streaming audio. Perhaps that's because the radio version implied that middle aged people with BMIs in the 25-30 range were at 70% increased risk for dementia. Not in the future, as the study in question indicates. Presently.

Now, upon hearing this, my first thought was "Who the hell has dementia in middle age, anyway? It must be a tiny number of people, similar to the tiny number of adolescents who have type II diabetes. They're prejudicing employers against all overweight and obese middle aged potential employees over a very small number of cases." But folks, it was actually worse than that. The study isn't about middle age people with dementia. It's entitled Midlife overweight and obesity increase late-life dementia risk: A population-based twin study. It's obvious from the title that the study is concerned with the association between being heavy earlier in life and dementia in old age. Dementia in middle age, as I suspected, is extremely rare.

Looking up the past work of the principal investigator, he's been concerned with the relationship between diabetes and dementia, which is fairly well documented. I suspect that the press release and the media coverage on this story are using "overweight" and "obese" as proxies for "diabetic" or at the very least not controlling for diabetes. I'll take a look at the study within the next few days and see if that's the case.

Safe / Sexy (or powerful)? | It's International No Diet Day!

vesta44's picture
vesta44
May 3rd, 2011 | Link | I didn't follow the links

I didn't follow the links under the article, but if you look at the related stories links - researchers have been talking about this since at least 2005 (or at least publishing articles about it). Personally, I'm not too worried about ending up with dementia in my old age because I've been fat from the age of 23. My grandparents (on both sides) were fat in their younger years and lived into their 80s/90s and didn't have dementia. My mother was fat, died at the age of 75 after fighting ovarian cancer for 10 years and she didn't have dementia. My dad is fat and 78 and he doesn't have dementia. Most of the people that I've known who had dementia/Alzheimer's weren't fat, they were thin (some had been fat and lost weight as they aged, some had always been thin).
So, is this a case of researchers looking specifically for obesity as a cause of dementia in old age or was that just an unexpected outcome of their research on causes in general? If it's the former, then I'm inclined to be rather skeptical about what it truly means as far as the chances of fat people in general actually ending up with dementia in their old age.

WLS - Sorry, not my preferred way of dying. *glares at doctor recommending it*

DeeLeigh's picture
DeeLeigh
May 3rd, 2011 | Link | Vesta, I suspect that

Vesta, I suspect that diabetes is the real cause. Diabetes is connected to dementia in old age, and is correlated with higher BMIs. But, for whatever reason they seem to want to generalize the effects of diabetes to all fat people, regardless of whether we actually have it. In reality, less than 10% of obese Americans (including less than 2% of obese teenagers - and maybe less than that, as I believe the statistic I based that on is for both type I and type II diabetes) have been diagnosed with diabetes. And lord knows, they don't fail to test us for it at every opportunity.

sannanina May 3rd, 2011 | Link | I also did not read the

I also did not read the linkes, but did they control for socio-economic status? If I remember correctly, socio-economic status is linked to dementia risk (as well as to all kinds of other health risks), and lower socio-economic status is also linked to higher BMIs.

DeeLeigh's picture
DeeLeigh
May 3rd, 2011 | Link | I'll let you know when I

I'll let you know when I read the study.

vesta44's picture
vesta44
May 3rd, 2011 | Link | I'm wondering now if it's

I'm wondering now if it's all diabetics, all fat diabetics, or only some diabetics/fat diabetics who end up with dementia as they age. My husband's mother had type 2 diabetes and she had dementia; she also died before she was 70, I think. His dad also had type 2 diabetes, but he died of a massive heart attack in his fifties. DH wasn't diagnosed with t2d until he was 38, and didn't start gaining much weight until then (chicken/egg scenario, which comes first - the diabetes or the weight gain?). Is this something we need to be concerned about and do we need to bring it up with his doctor and his case manager the next time we see them? Is there anything that can be done to ward this off? Just what I need, more shit to worry about when it comes to his health when I have enough shit to worry about with my own health.

WLS - Sorry, not my preferred way of dying. *glares at doctor recommending it*

DeeLeigh's picture
DeeLeigh
May 3rd, 2011 | Link | My dad is in his

My dad is in his mid-seventies and has had diabetes since he was in his forties - and he ignored it for the first couple of decades after he found out. He's gotten very absent minded and sometimes seems to be 'not all there,' but he's still functional enough that he hasn't retired from his teaching position. It's probably not full blown dementia, but he's certainly not as sharp as he once was. It's possible that the diabetes has played a role.

I really hate how they report these stories as scare tactics (and invitations to discriminate), but don't provide enough detail that people could figure out how to mitigate their risks. Oh course, they imply that if we all go on permanent starvation diets and become and stay thin (which statistically, is very unlikely to happen), then any health problems we have will magically disappear. Oh! And perhaps we'll become superhuman geniuses as well.

However, I don't really believe that. Diabetes may very well affect cognition but what, I wonder, is a diabetic supposed to do about it?

Reporting that dementia is somehow caused by having a high BMI is even more irresponsible.

richie79's picture
richie79
May 3rd, 2011 | Link | Aware as I am that the

Aware as I am that the plural of anecdotes is not 'data', despite a plethora of reports implying some sort of causal relationship between BMI and Alzheimers, pretty much everyone I know of who has succumbed to this condition has been thin (one having done everything 'right' and lived by the 'rules' to a ripe old age before being struck down).

Apart from an apparent assumption that fat and diabetic are somehow interchangeable, I wonder if these researchers considered controlling for dieting? Most fat people will attempt to lose weight through caloric restriction at some point in their lives; many will spend the majority of their lives in a state of near-perpetual hunger. Dieting not only places various stresses on the body but also encourages weight regain, and this weight cycling has also been linked to generally poorer health outcomes. Those designing these studies (which as Vesta suggests often seem to involve starting with an assumption and then finding data which appears to support it) should surely account for this. No doubt an academic bias against fat people (and toward the weight-loss paradigm) prevents this level of rigour, particularly when the studies are being bankrolled by those who stand to benefit from further demonising and frightening 'the obese'.

I suspect that (despite the alleged 'public health crisis') the upturn in dementia rates can largely be explained by increased longevity - quite literally, our bodies outlasting our brains - but for the 'experts' to accept this would undermine their insistence that we all strive for quantitative length of life through self-denial. I don't know what irritates me more - the increasing trend on the part of the medical establishment to see every known condition as somehow being the fault of the sufferer, a more specific 'scapegoat the fatties' mentality amongst the research establishment and their media mouthpieces, or for that matter the fact that the BBC's charter seems to now require at least one badly-reported, fat-related scare story on any given news day. (If you consider this a superficial treatment of complex issues, steer well clear of their current BBC Three season of shows disproportionately focusing on 'obese' prospective mothers and child obesity).

"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

MReap May 3rd, 2011 | Link | I'm new to the diabetes game

I'm new to the diabetes game but my "team" (including my lovely endocrinologist who is fat and diabetic himself) often state that the grizzly side effects of diabetes come with not having blood sugar well regulated. So, in the case of this study, could we be looking at people who had uncontrolled diabetes for years, if not decades, and that had a negative effect on the development of dementia?

creeloo May 3rd, 2011 | Link | We also now know that

We also now know that Metformin, the major antidiabetic drug used in type 2 diabetes, can deplete your vitamin B12 levels, and one consequence of low B12 levels is cognitive dysfunction which looks almost exactly like dementia. Metformin has been in use in Europe since the late 1950s. Weight loss surgery and extreme dieting are also a big risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies which cause cognitive decline, I wonder if the study controlled for that too.

DeeLeigh's picture
DeeLeigh
May 4th, 2011 | Link | Well, I have a copy of the

Well, I have a copy of the study now. Anyone who wants to take a look at it can e-mail me.

diane May 4th, 2011 | Link | I wish they'd make up their

I wish they'd make up their minds already...

"Midlife overweight and obesity increase late-life dementia risk: A population-based twin study.". LATE LIFE?!? Fat people are bombarded non-stop 24/7 in every vitriolic obscene way that being fat will shorten life spans (hey! did you know even losing "just" ten pounds...) and will keel over and die any second, so which is it?... Either fat people will live into their late-life or fat people will all be dead tomorrow. The dissonance is astounding to me. Lack of critical thinking skills. Unless they’ve adjusted and made a special just-for-fat-people category of what "late life" is: any day now cos we all "know" fat people will die before they get to old age.

And as other's have pointed out... it seems they're really talking about the effects of diabetes and assuming every fat person has it or will have it. I guess there's more grant money available for "researching" fat than diabetes? Why else would they misrepresent? Oh well... in all honestly I haven't read the study, so perhaps my sarcastic post is premature.

richie79's picture
richie79
May 4th, 2011 | Link | "I guess there's more grant

"I guess there's more grant money available for "researching" fat than diabetes?"

I suspect you may have hit the nail on the head. Indeed there seems to be infinitely more grant money available for researching fat than pretty much anything else, which is why it seems that dementia / cancer / diabetes / heart charities spend far more time and money pumping out 'obesity studies' and demanding curbs on our civil liberties than researching cures. Given how fat is increasingly being accepted as a causal factor in just about every disease and condition known to man they no doubt consider them the same thing, need no reminding that any mention of the O-word equals instant headlines, and in any case it's easier (and apparently more acceptable) to lazily blame people for their own morbidity than accept (gasp!) that they don't know everything or have all the answers yet.

"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

DeeLeigh's picture
DeeLeigh
May 5th, 2011 | Link | Yes, this is the real issue,

Yes, this is the real issue, and it's a huge ethical problem that I'm not sure a lot of the people involved are even willing to acknowledge.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

© 2000-2017 Big Fat Blog and its authors, all rights reserved. Big Fat Blog, Big Fat Facts, and Big Fat Index are our trademarks.