A recent study is making the rounds of media outlets, suggesting that obesity causes learning disorders and memory problems. But statistics sometimes lie.
A recent study suggests that there is a link between obesity and memory loss. In fact, it states that for 25 percent of the obese test subjects, their cognitive tests results were low enough to qualify them as learning disabled.
Here's my problem with this study: It lists a bunch of results, without digging any deeper.
Problems with the Reporting

  • What percentage of all Americans have learning disorders.
  • How many of the people in the study have medical conditions that might cause both obesity and memory loss.
  • How old the test subjects were, since both weight gain and memory loss come with age.
  • Many of the test subjects were on the verge of a weight loss surgery, a procedure that could have killed them or caused major negative side effects, when first tested and then three months post-op when tested again. Could low test scores the first time have been caused, in some cases, by stress over the upcoming surgery? Could some of the same low-testers have tested higher after that stress was lifted?
  • How many people who already put moral judgments on fat people will read this and now feel justified in assuming that fat people are stupid?
  • How many already stigmatized fat people will read this and assume that memory or learning problems they are having are just one more way they've failed by being fat?

Impact of the Poor Reporting
In reality, there are many reasons for memory or learning problems. There is evidence that 19 percent of all Americans suffer from them, regardless of shape or size. That leaves only a six percent difference--and some of that could be explained in a way other than blaming it on body size.
This article not only places extra stigma on fat people, it doubly stigmatizes fat people who have learning disabilities. This is irresponsible science, as well as irresponsible journalism.
Perhaps the worst bit of journalism is that the writer suggests in the article that there are two groups: the obese and the healthy. As if it is impossible to be both fat and healthy, or conversely thin and unhealthy. This kind of thinking does not need a national platform, such as Fox News. It has negative impact for fat and thin people and everyone in between.
The problem with articles like this is that they present statistics as fact without exploring deeply enough to give readers the information they need to come to informed conclusions.
Obese people are already subjected to discrimination and harassment in this country. Articles like this one fuel the fire unnecessarily.

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