The fresh fruit mafia

The Victorian Department of Health has published selected results from its 2007 telephone ‘health survey’. They contain some data on, among other things dietary habits and the incidence of ‘overweight and obesity’ that the The Age beats up for all they’re worth: “Victorians forsake fruit and turn to fat” it screeches.

But if you look at the evidence presented the story is quite different and not nearly so scary. The survey established that Victorians are not significantly more overweight or obese than they were in 2002 when the data was first collected.

Almost half of all persons aged 18 years and over (48.7 per cent) were overweight or obese (33.0 per cent were overweight and a further 15.7 per cent were obese) in 2007. The proportion of overweight and obese persons has remained relatively constant since 2002, when information about height and weight was first collected

Also the prevalence of diagnosed diabetes “remained relatively steady over the period 2001–2007 for both males and females”, although eye-balling the data in Table 6.1 of the report suggests that the prevalence may have fallen slightly from 5.7% in 2001 to 5.1% in 2007 (standard error of 0.3% in both cases).

As for the consequences of our reported fruit and veg. deficit, the report finds very little to say. The best they can come up with is:

“…persons with lower levels of psychological distress were more likely than persons with higher levels of psychological distress to consume sufficient fruit and vegetables to meet the dietary guidelines”

But this is pretty silly stuff. Table 2.14 of the report also shows that the proportion of risky drinkers who consume the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables is higher (8.6%) than the proportion of teetotalers (5.9%).

My gripe with this report is that, like other health institutions in Australia, the Victorian Department of Health has not published the data on which their ‘selected results’ are based; not even the basic statistics for their data. So, for example, we have no idea of the central tendency of the BMI data (on overweight and obesity), no information on the frequency distribution such as the standard deviation or the quartile data. They report nothing but prevalence data stratified by age groups and ‘disease’ status. This seriously limits the value of the data for anyone who has a slightly more serious interest in health policy than the incurious journalists of The Age.

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