Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Diet Coke Dilemma: Junk Food Junk Science

This is the kind of statistical nonsense that makes a numbers guy's blood boil (like mine). A recent study by a researcher at the Boston University School of Medicine found that persons who drank more than one soft drink per day had a higher risk of developing the dreaded "metabolic syndrome" and IT DIDN'T MATTER IF THE SOFT DRINK WAS SUGAR FREE. Of course, the bonehead media jumped on this paradoxical statement as they always do to generate provocative headlines. And, of course, the conclusion is, in a word, BULLSHIT!

Of course, we all know that metabolic syndrome is a major heart disease risk and that it has grown to epidemic proportions largely because of Americans (especially kids) consume a great deal of sugar and processed carbohydrates. So let's set a few things straight and rehash once again how figures lie and liars figure.

First, the study never said that sugar-free soda caused metabolic syndrome. It merely stated there was an association. I wish I could remember the name of the medical researcher who offered this great analogy.

"Everytime a plane flies over my backyard, my dog barks at it. Everytime my dog barks at a plane it continues to fly away and does not land in my backyard. Therefore, while I can say my dog's bark is ASSOCIATED with planes not landing in my backyard, I cannot say my dogs bark CAUSED the plane to fly away." Get the picture? Barking dogs clearly scare away postmen, robbers, cats, and rabbits but not airplanes even though from, a statistical association standpoint, the observations may be identical.

The same is true in this instance. It is likely that people who consume soft drinks of any kind are more likely to engage in other high risk behavior that IS causal (like eating a Big Mac and fries). But does that mean it makes no difference if you drink Diet Coke or regular Coke? HELL NO! But, that's not the way the press writes it.

Sheesh! It never ends.



Anonymous said...

I'm a numbers guy too. And I can't comment on this study, because I didn't read it. BUT, I can comment on the effects of artificial sugar (in its various forms). There is a book "Sweet Seductions" that documents well how these seemingly innocent chemicals cause all sorts of problems. Perhaps the dog barking at the airplane really does keep it from landing? (Just kidding, I understand correlation vs cause and effect).
Thanks for your great blog...lots of fun to read, and lots of good information.


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