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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