Friday, February 22, 2013

It's the Vacuum Cleaner's Fault!

In a world full of extremely difficult issues, you can depend on the media to give you very easy answers. Studies with incomplete data make the front page and it seems like every online news story points to some kind of magic bullet in terms of either the cause or the cure for obesity. As practitioners of weight loss surgery, we're especially annoyed by stories that point to a truly tiny data point and extrapolate it into something immensely larger.

An excellent example of building these molehills into mountains is a story we saw entitled "Obesity: Is the Vacuum Cleaner to Blame?" The topic was a study that looked at such labor-saving cleaning devices as the Roomba and tried to assess their impact on the nation's collective weight problem. The study was funded by Coca-Cola and it's easy to see why the nation's #1 distributor of sugary sodas was interested in looking at the exercise end of the weight equation. As long as we're focusing on even one very minor reason Americans are getting less exercise than we used to, we're not talking about all those empty, non-filling calories so many of us become almost literally addicted to on on our way to becoming candidates for obesity surgery.

These news stories are pointless because we already know that lack of exercise is a major issue for most of us in this world of sedentary work and leisure time pursuits. We also know exactly as well that doing away with Roombas won't get us any closer to dealing with the root issues of weight. After all, every moment that disc-schaped robot saves us from sweeping and operating a vacuum is more time we could just as easily be spending at the gym or a dance class as sitting in front of the television or the laptop.

In the very same way, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to draw big conclusions from a study that tries to look at the cost-effectiveness of bariatric procedures but looks at only two of several available operations and completely ignores sleeve gastrectomy. It's not that the data isn't valid, it's just that it examines only the tiniest part of the data that's out there. Obesity is a big problem, and the answer to it is going to be a little larger than a vacuum cleaner or a very partial and preliminary study.

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