Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Obese People Especially at Risk for Swine Flu?

The Washington Post has just reported that obesity was a surprisingly frequent condition among those hospitalized with swine flu in California, along with other pre-existing conditions like heart disease and diabetes (correlated with obesity) and pregnancy (definitely not correlated with obesity.)

Uhh...guess I should get in line early for that eventual swine flu vaccine?

Or not. There's a lot of sensationalism about obesity out there these days. I get probably 5-10 articles a day about a new study that suggests that obesity leads to something catastrophic, when in truth obesity is just correlated with some of these things. It's not surprising that obese people have more health problems than normal-sized folks, but we have to find the line between legitimate science and shrillness/scare tactics.

For example, just today I saw an article stating that obesity is "loosely correlated" to myopia (near-sightedness) among obese Indonesian girls. The "expert" went on to say that "obese girls should be examined for their ophthalmological status."

I'm not going to argue that obese girls shouldn't have their eyes checked, because every girl needs to have her eyes checked. But any college student who has taken the most basic statistics class knows that a "loose correlation" isn't sufficient basis for a movement toward eye exams for fat girls.

I digress. Excerpt re: swine flu and fatties below.


Hospitalized Swine Flu Patients in Calif. Had Underlying Conditions
David Brown and Robin Shulman
The Washington Post

A survey of people hospitalized because of swine flu in California has found that obesity was almost as common in them as diabetes, heart disease and pregnancy, all conditions known to raise a person's risk of complications from influenza.

In all, about two-thirds of the patients had some underlying medical condition, according to a report today in the weekly bulletin of he Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We were surprised by the frequency of obesity among the severe cases that we've been tracking," said Anne Schuchat, one of the CDC epidemiologists managing the swine flu outbreak.

She said the possibility that obese people should be at the head of the line along with other high-risk groups if a swine flu vaccine becomes available is something "we're looking into."

Click here to read the full article.

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