“Swine Flu Collides With Fat Epidemic.” Sound like an Onion headline? Sadly, it isn’t. Echoing one of our cartoons almost to a tee, Bloomberg News gave into temptation today with the sweeping claim that the H1N1 virus is “on a collision course with the obesity epidemic.” But the case for this supposed link starts to crumble by the end of the same sentence: “the World Health Organization says it’s gathering statistics to confirm and understand this development.” (Emphasis added.)
Six paragraphs into the article, reporter Jason Gale lets the cat fully out of the bag:
So far, the evidence is anecdotal. No global or national data have been reported.
With public health activists (such as Harold Goldstein from the California Center for Public Health Advocacy) and even the Centers for Disease Control playing up the obesity numbers, it’s no wonder that panic-inducing headlines like this are so common. More often than not, however, reality is far less alarming.
We’ll stand by while the WHO and other reputable experts “confirm and understand” the link between weight and the H1N1 virus. But until they do, the plural of “anecdote” still isn’t “data.”