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Obesity Trend: Pick a Number to Fit Your Agenda

Right after CDC announced that the obesity trend for adults was flat in 2012, Gallup announced new data for 2013 that shows renewed growth in self-reported adult obesity rates. All this comes at a time when some selected childhood obesity statistics suggest a decline.Obesity Trend

The Gallup numbers are interesting because they come from a fresh source. The sample is certainly robust because it comes from interviews with more than 140,000 adults. Like any estimate, it’s not perfect. The absolute obesity rate Gallup publishes is based on how tall and heavy people say they are. Since everyone fibs a little about their height and weight, these numbers undoubtedly understate the obesity rate. And indeed, just like other self-reported BMI data, these numbers are lower than the values from measured height and weight in the CDC NHANES data.

But despite that caveat, the Gallup numbers are useful for understanding trends. They remind us that we can’t be sure where this epidemic is headed, so we need to be careful about premature declarations of success. Picking the numbers that conform to your bias is all too easy.

Even when we reach the point where every susceptible American has obesity and the rates stop climbing, we can hardly claim success.

Click here to read more from Gallup, here to read more from the Huffington Post, and here to read the latest CDC report on obesity trends.

Up, photograph © Mark Dyer / flickr

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