« The Bonanza! Group | Main | hope for reform of gerrymandering »

October 15, 2004

food for thought

Here is a strange statistical result. My colleagues and I have been teaching high school students to investigate the causes of obesity in their community--as a form of civic education. This fall, they are going to conduct and tape interviews and create a radio show to publicize their results. To give them some data to work from, we surveyed all the students in the school's health classes. The response rate was poor, because students had to bring in parental permission slips before they could complete the survey; and there was no penalty for failing to participate. Nevertheless, we received enough surveys to draw tentative statistical conclusions. Here is the one that surprises me. None of the 17 kids who said that they ate fast food every day are overweight (according to their self-reported combination of height and weight). However, 43% of those who said they eat "hardly any" fast food are considered clinically overweight.

What's going on? Maybe a lot of kids are mistaken or dishonest, but it's strange that the relationship between fast food and body weight would be so linear and negative. The sample is too small for serious statistical analysis, but we noticed that immigrant kids are more likely to eat fast food, yet less likely to be overweight. So maybe immigrants eat good food at home but go out a lot to McDonalds.

There are more possible explanations. For instance, the Washington Post's "Kid's Post" section reported last Wednesday that young people order less healthy food at restaurants like Outback Steakhouse and Red Lobster than they do at fast-food places. So maybe it's good to go to McDonalds if it keeps you from ordering the "surf and turf" at a sit-down restaurant. But most of the kids we surveyed cannot afford regular visits to real restaurants.

In any case, the students' research task is a lot harder because of this result.

October 15, 2004 12:32 PM | category: a high school civics class | Comments


A very interesting small study. My housemate, who is young enough to remember EXACTLY what it was like in high school, offered a different explanation. Eating out at a fast food restaurant for a lot of kids is a social experience. They go with their friends. And, because most don't have cars, they walk or ride bikes or take the bus. So they are getting, frequently, at least a little exercise in the process of eating out. They are also mixed in with a group of peers; they want to fit in, and impress, those peers, and so -- despit e eating junk food -- may be inclined to watch their weight overall.

But what of those who don't eat fast food? They may come from slightly poorer families, or not have jobs, and so don't have the cash for fast food to begin with. They may also be overweight to begin with, or have lower social skills. They don't "fit in," perhaps, and don't have the peer group to go with to a fast food place during their lunch hour or on the weekend.

Instead, they go home and scarf down whatever they can lay hands on THERE.

If you want to do some little follow-up studies, try checking out their historic weights. How long have those who are over-weight been over-weight? The ones who eat in fast food places: do they routinely go alone or with friends from school? You might also look for a link relating to auto usage, obesity, and fast food use. 'Cause once they're older, and have wheels, and the center of their life shifts to a job, maybe THAT is when the pork start gets added on.

-- Roger Keeling
Portland, OR.

October 18, 2004 8:21 AM | Comments (2) | posted by Roger Keeling

The two authors of "Critical Condition" were on NPR this morning talking about the hellacious failures of our healthcare system. Lots of grim stuff. Among other things: the diabetes rates have increased to such an extent -- treated and untreated but above all without significant modifications in diet -- that huge numbers of kids will develop it as adults with the usual results, including amputations.

October 18, 2004 6:40 PM | Comments (2) | posted by PW

Site Meter