New Research Could Undercut Claims of Obesity Epidemic
New unpublished research conducted by researchers at CDC and the National Cancer Institute likely will conclude that the number of annual obesity-related deaths in the United States "pales in comparison" to the 435,000 annual tobacco-related deaths and could "undercut claims of a recent surge" in obesity-related deaths, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the new research, annual obesity-related deaths likely are comparable to the 85,000 annual deaths from alcohol consumption or the 75,000 from infections (McKay, Wall Street Journal, 12/3).
An internal CDC investigation last week determined an agency study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March that said obesity could overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death in the near future inflated the number of annual obesity-related deaths by tens of thousands because of statistical errors. The study led to an HHS advertising campaign on obesity and an increased focus on obesity research at NIH, which increased funding for such research from $378.6 million in 2003 to $400.1 million in 2004 (California Healthline, 11/23).
Authors of the new research declined to discuss their results because they were not approved by NCI or accepted for publication by a scientific journal. In addition, the authors criticized the methodology of the disputed CDC study, which they said relied on data from young and otherwise healthy obese individuals, although most deaths occur in older individuals with other risk factors, such as tobacco use or other health problems. They said that the data used in the new research, which is based on an analysis of death certificates from three federal surveys through 2000, is more current and accounts for other risk factors. The new research also provides estimates of uncertainty -- such as a margin of error in survey data -- to make the results "more specific than previous studies," according to the Journal. Barry Graubard, one of authors of the new research and a statistician at NCI, said, "This is nationally representative data" (Wall Street Journal, 12/3).