Brain Surgery

Obesity Brain Wreck? Cut It Out!

Some appalling health news headlines have lately been coming from a study of the relationship between memory and weight status. In the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Lucy Cheke and colleagues published a study of memory performance in people with BMIs ranging from 18 to 51. They found that higher BMI was associated with lower performance on standardized memory tasks. These results prompted creative writing by health reporters that brought us to an obesity brain wreck.

The study is intriguing and fits into a much larger body of work examining how brain function is different in obesity. But even if these results in just 51 subjects can be generalized to a broader population, it’s a huge leap to say, as one headline shouted, that “obesity is wrecking your brain.” As obesity researcher Jameson Voss reminded us on social media recently:

Different brain responses occur among individuals with obesity. The brain responses may have come first and caused obesity, they could be caused by obesity, or both obesity and these responses could be caused by other variables.

Exactly right.

So if you want a simple check on the reliability of a health news source, just look for language of a “link” or an “association.” If you find links and associations mixed with causes and effects, you can safely dismiss the reliability of your source.

Click here for the study and here for more from the BBC.

Brain Surgery, photograph © Domiriel / flickr

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March 1, 2016

2 Responses to “Obesity Brain Wreck? Cut It Out!”

  1. March 01, 2016 at 7:42 am, Angela Meadows said:

    Did somebody say stereotype threat?

  2. March 01, 2016 at 7:49 am, Ted said:

    Exactly.