Headlines That Bite: Mosquitoes Cause Childhood Obesity?

Obesity headlines too often bring more sensation than information on the subject. Coverage this week for a study of the impact mosquitoes have on children provides a good case in point. Headlines in USA Today and an embarrassingly large assortment of other publications declared that mosquitoes might cause childhood obesity. Oh my!

Unfortunately, the study had little to do with obesity. It was actually a study of the effects of mosquito control on children’s play. The investigators compared the prevalence of child outdoor activity in two matched urban communities. They found that more time was spent outdoors by children in the community that was treated for mosquito abatement than in the matched community that was not. The Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association published the results.

The study provides useful information about the benefits of mosquito control. The authors go on to speculate that untreated infestations by the Asian tiger mosquito might contribute to childhood obesity by curbing outdoor play. But speculation is not evidence and it’s not the basis for good health reporting.

Reporters, curb your enthusiasm.

Click here to read the study in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, and click here to read the reporting in USA Today.

Asian Tiger Mosquito, photograph © Sean McCann / flickr

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