Spurious Variables

In the world of statistics we collect data on pretty much anything and then examine the information collected to see if we can deduce cause and effect relationships between things. We start with a research question, or hypothesis, and then study the variables that have an effect. More detailed studies examine specific effects on whatever is being studied.

For example (and all you people out there well versed in stats – this is a purposely simplified example – don’t contact me about stat details ad how to use SPSS, not the point of the blog), if we hypothesize (really just a fancy word for an educated guess) that people become overweight because they don’t exercise, we could collect data and study this. Get a group of people who exercise and a group who do not exercise (the group not exercising is called your control group) and measure their body fat. A year later measure all the participants body fat again. If the group who exercises has gained little to no body fat and the other group does gain body fat we can say that exercise prevents the gain of body fat.

Simple, right?

Not really. There are so many other factors involved that this study would be essentially worthless. We don’t know they type of exercise, the diet of the participants, other lifestyle factors, relationship status, life events, or any other innumerable variable (see, stats are fun!) that could have lead to the exercising group not gaining body fat.

What I want to talk about are spurious variable. These are factors that appear to have an effect on what is being studied or measured but actually do not. In the above example, exercise might have nothing to do with the body fat gain. It could have been completely based on the participants diet. If the exercising group followed a strict diet and the other group did not then that may have been the cause and the exercise actually had nothing to do with it.

What does this have to do with anything?

In the world of health there are huge debates as to the cause of the obesity epidemic currently happening in North America. This just simply blows my mind. How is there any debate on this at all? Really? How are all these educated people wasting so much time and effort on trying to figure out the cause of the epidemic?

There is so much research on genetic causes and physiological causes attempting to understand the issue. But obvisouly, this must be irrelevant. Because if it was genetic or physiological then we would be seeing the issue around the globe and we are not.

For all of you who hated the last blog and said I didn’t have any compassion for disabled individuals, or those dealing with addictions or psychological issues which all may lead to their obesity (which by the way many psychologists have told be those issues don’t justify obesity), ok, let’s assume for a minute those issues were a huge factor. Why don’t we see the same thing around the world then? Why is the obesity epidemic still mainly a North American thing? Because they have addiction, psychological issues, and disabled individuals all over the world.

What about poverty and education? Yes, I agree we need to work on ensuring our population is educated and gain make a living, but those aren’t excuses for obesity. Try travelling through Africa or Asia, they have poverty and education issues that make North America look like paradise for all of us, yet they aren’t battling obesity.

So, an easy examination shows us that the whole world has roughly the same genetics and physiology across the human population and socio-cultural issues exist amongst all populations, yet North American’s are the ones battling obesity.

Know what that makes those variables then? Spurious.

Remember what that means? Variables that appear to be causing something that actually aren’t.

There are some things I notice, however, that appear to be non-spurious relationships.

Have you ever been to Costco? No, I am not going to discuss the bulk food or packaged crap. Next time you are there look at the body fat of the people eating at the fast food station behind the checkout counter. You know the place, where they sell hot dogs, fries, poutine, pizza, and pop and everything is deep fried a couple of times. Check out the body fat of all the people eating there and how healthy they look. You might notice something.

Or, spend a little time at a local grocery store. Look at what is being purchased by people with healthy bodies and low body fat and look at what is being purchased by people who appear unhealthy and have high body fat. You just might notice a few statistical correlations of your own.

Stop by any fast food chain and look at the average body fat level of the majority of the customers. Notice anything? What about ice cream shops? Candy stores? Chocolate shops? Mall food courts? All you can eat buffets?

Seriously, start watching it. You will see some things.

Why isn’t anyone studying that?

Because the issue isn’t social, psychological, genetic, or anything like that. It’s all what we choose to put in our mouths. Choose. Did you read that? Not have to, not forced to, not made to. Choose to. Because that is the truth of it.

Here come the arguments against. Healthy food is more expensive. No, its not. Bag of peas? $2. Bag of French fries? $2. Fast food meal? $6 dollars. Subway or pita fast food? $6. Healthy food is no more expensive than crap food.

Preparation time? Seriously, stop being so damn lazy. Yeah, it takes more time to chop veggies than to dump French fries out of a bag. Maybe a couple minutes. Get over it. Take more time to measure your blood sugar and prepare your insulin shots multiple times a day. You can make the time. I don’t know why some people think they can’t and others do. I train single moms with kids that seem to make the time even though they also work full time. It has nothing to do with time – it’s the fact that you’re lazy. Wake up 20 minutes earlier if you must.

Many people think I don’t care and I am insensitive. I am not. I care a lot. I wish everyone was healthy and fit. I truly really do. That’s why I am the way I am. People need to hear the harsh reality, they need to hear the truth.

There is no gentle way to do this. There is no way easy, nice way to explain this. There is no time to make small little changes.

People need to take responsibility for themselves and their actions. Or else you are going to die. Seriously, maybe not today or tomorrow. But if you are unhealthy you will die younger and have a lower quality of life then all of those who eat well and exercise. That’s not callous, that is the cold hard truth. It is the facts.

Coddle and pacify and be nice all you want, you’re just delaying the inevitable. You aren’t helping people. You are putting off things that are going to have to be dealt with eventually.

And by then it may be too late to do anything about it.


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