Trash Talk About Causality, Personality, and Obesity
Causality captivates people when the subject is obesity. The appetite for understanding factors that cause obesity grows more insatiable as its health and economic impact grows more devastating. That appetite surely spurred a new publication in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Gulay Avsar and colleagues developed a random effects model to identify factors that influence the risk of overweight and obesity in Australia. They find a correlation between obesity and personality and conclude:
Policies which concentrate on lifestyle choice and economic and social factors may be inefficient if the
relationship between obesity and personality is ignored.
Rooting about in large datasets for correlations can be entertaining. For example, cheese consumption appears to correlate with death by entanglement in bedsheets. Absent a great deal more research, though, such correlations are a lousy basis for making policy. Correlation does not establish causality. So, no, obesity policies do not need to be based on personalities in Australia. Nor anywhere else for that matter.
Fortunately, others in Australia are putting together more robust ideas. In the Medical Journal of Australia, editor Nicholas Talley describes a six-point plan for action recommended by the Council of Presidents of Medical Colleges. Their six points are a good start for any policymakers seeking a way forward:
♦ Addressing obesity as a chronic disease, not a lifestyle choice
♦ Education and upskilling for health professionals
♦ Health professionals leading by example
♦ Pre-conception planning
♦ Evidence-based national obesity prevention strategy
♦ Stronger voluntary regulation and new legislation
These recommendations and the thinking behind them are impressive. Speculation about obesity, personality, and causality, not so much.
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February 15, 2017