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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.

Posted by peterlevine at 12:32 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Bonanza! Group

People who work to improve the quality of public culture deserve our attention and thanks. For example, Adrienne Schatz is one of the co-founders of the "Bonanza!" group. She explains that Bonanza! is:

a network of Republican and Democrat friends who've put aside differences - at least in this realm - to create www.bonanzag.com, a very comprehensive, accessible, and truly nonpartisan election resource. We emphasize fact-checking, and have compiled dozens of easily navigable links to information on candidates, issues, registration, voters' rights, poll monitoring volunteer opportunities, humor (if you haven't seen the shenanigans at www.jibjab.com, you should ...), etc.

Posted by peterlevine at 10:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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