Scientists Discuss Methods Used in Obesity-Related Research at IOM Meeting
CDC Director Julie Gerberding at a recent Institute of Medicine meeting in Washington, D.C., said that the problems found in an agency study on obesity-related deaths have served as a "lesson in humility" and asked scientists to help determine accurate methods to measure the effects of obesity and other major causes of death, the Wall Street Journal reports (McKay, Wall Street Journal, 12/14).
An internal investigation conducted last month found a CDC 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.
New unpublished research conducted by researchers at CDC and the National Cancer Institute likely will conclude that the number of annual obesity-related deaths in the United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 is much lower than the 435,000 annual tobacco-related deaths and could invalidate claims of a recent increase in obesity-related deaths. 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 (California Healthline, 12/03).
CDC asked IOM to organize the meeting after the internal review found the problems with the study published in March.
At the meeting, scientists discussed methods to calculate obesity-related deaths, and some said that the actual number of annual obesity-related deaths likely is 300,000 to 350,000.
Gerberding said the study of improper diet and lack of exercise "is a nascent science just emerging," adding, "There is no room here for scientific arrogance. We are all learning as we go."
Steven Blair, president and CEO of the Cooper Institute in Dallas, said obesity does not correlate to improper diet and lack of physical activity in all cases because individuals of normal weight often die of causes related to poor diet or lack of exercise. "These are different things," Blair said (Wall Street Journal, 12/14).