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This just in: Actual data not as necessary as you might think

I have a coworker who loves to come to me with fat-related articles. This afternoon I received a gleeful IM: "I bet this one's gonna enrage you!" Then he sent me a link to this article about a study funded by Allergan, peddler of lap bands and other weight loss surgery products (as well as various pharmaceuticals). According to the study, not only do fat people take too much extra time off work, but apparently the time we spend at the office is somehow less productive, costing the poor companies who employ us millions billions of dollars a year.

My coworker was right. I read this article and now all I want to do is hiss and spit and jump up and down and maybe jam a pen in my eye. Because what the hell? There are no details whatsoever in the article that explain what is meant by loss of productivity or how it is measured, there are only dollar signs and percentages. For instance, if you're a woman with a BMI of 30-34.9, you will experience 6.3 days of 'presenteeism' or lost productivity throughout the year. At BMIs of 40 and above the number of days of lost productivity jumps to 22.7. For men the numbers are 2.3 days and 21.9 days, respectively.

But what does that actually mean? And where are those figures coming from? Where is the data? Your guess is as good as mine. What incenses me so much about this is that people are going to read this article and it will just reinforce every stereotype they've ever thought about fat people and laziness and it will give them justification to not hire or promote a fat person, to not pay them the same as everyone else. And you and I both know that the concept that fat people are not dedicated hard workers is complete and utter BS!

Feel free to vent with me in the comments.

PCA/ACA Fat Studies 2011 Call for Papers | The Truth About Weight Loss Maintenance

pani113's picture
October 8th, 2010 | Link | Studies of course can be

Studies of course can be flat out faked and many are. But here are a few other tricks:
*Don't control for age. Older people are statistically heavier. Older people have a higher chance of getting sick. So if you don't control for age you can measure younger thinner healthier people with older, heavier, sicker people and blame it all on weight. Of course not every old person is heavy and sicker. But all you need is a group difference to get the stats to come out the way you want.
* Don't control for social class. Compare fatter poor people (statistically) with richer thinner people(statistically). Blame the effects of poverty and social class on weight.
*Don't factor out weight gain as a side effect from certain diseases and medications. That way you can compare an already sicker part of the population to a healthier one. And blame it on weight.
* Use some very heavy people as statistical outliers. I think very few people would argue that extreme obesity where people are in the 700 and 800 lb and up range do have a higher rate of disease. If you include extremes, you can really manipulate the stats your way. That is why it is important to always get the actual numbers in a study. Percentages mean nothing. It could be that a few individuals in the extreme range account for most absenteeism and most fat people have an average or even below average number of days off. In fact, there was a study several years ago that found fat people took fewer days off.

I don't know how this study was done. As a sociologist it was part of my training to know what makes a good study. Unfortunately, most studies are so much marketing these days. The results are determined before the data is collected. That is why I make sure everyone knows about VNRs (secret commercials within the news) and other deceptive practices. The good news is public distrust of MSM is at an all time low. It deserves to be.

"Fat can be beautiful. Intolerance is ALWAYS ugly!"

lilacsigil October 8th, 2010 | Link | *Don't factor out weight

*Don't factor out weight gain as a side effect from certain diseases and medications. That way you can compare an already sicker part of the population to a healthier one. And blame it on weight.

Indeed! Anti-depressants and contraceptives are a major contributor to this.

Weight-loss due to illness tends to happen very late in life (post-retirement age) and/or while in intensive phases of illness or treatment (chemotherapy, many cancers) in which case you're unlikely to be at work at all and not contributing to the figures!

Birdyluv October 8th, 2010 | Link | HA! I'm a fat woman and just

HA! I'm a fat woman and just today, I got promotion with a big juicy raise, a significant bonus level increase and stock options. Of course, I earned this by sitting on my fat a$$, eating bon-bons and surfing the internet (ok, I'm guilty of that one!) all day.

Funny, many of the fat people I know in the workplace are OVER achievers...perhaps because we have to show everyone that no, we're not lazy?

What's next...fat people caused the BP oil spill? Fat people caused the economy to crash? You're all going to hell and of course, fat people are to blame!!!

DeeLeigh's picture
October 9th, 2010 | Link | It really helps to have

It really helps to have access to the research methods when critiquing something like that, though. Yes, the data's been misused. But, skeptics won't be convinced until we explain how.

Tobysgirl October 9th, 2010 | Link | I, too, was an overachiever

I, too, was an overachiever in the workplace, but I did take sick time. Why? Because I was hypothyroid for decades, undiagnosed, untreated. People with hypothyroidism are far more subject to illnesses, especially respiratory infections. Don't get me started on this, I'd like to kill someone for all the years (decades) I lost.

pani113's picture
October 9th, 2010 | Link | A Link to Share

If he is always bringing you links from MSM, you might want to share this link with him:

It has many outed video news releases, or segments made to look like legitimate news that were really bought and paid for by sponsors. They are aired within "credible" newscasts; deliberately made to look like journalism. The whole point is that the public will not know the difference. This site shows the original VNR made by the PR companies, and then how they were doctored to be slipped into regular news programs. While it does not relate to fat directly, I have had some luck getting people to start questioning what they see. Many are shocked this practice goes on.
This link is not fat related, but there are some health segments which are just so much marketing! So MSM bombards us with obesity hysteria. With billions on the line, why wouldn't they use "studies" as a marketing tactic. Especially when they can get away with not providing any data or reference to where data came from?

"Fat can be beautiful. Intolerance is ALWAYS ugly!"

worrier October 10th, 2010 | Link | "What's next...fat people

"What's next...fat people caused the BP oil spill? Fat people caused the economy to crash? You're all going to hell and of course, fat people are to blame!!!"

We've already reached crazy. When someone came out in the media saying that fat people cause more global warming than "normal" people (or however it was phrased) I realised that sense had left the building and the loonies were in control of the asylum. I don't even think that the majority of people who've bought into the fat hate care too much about sense and proof. I think if people will believe fat people are causing more global warming, then they'll believe almost anything that lets them scapegoat the fatties. I think we're not far off the same sort of insane hysteria that fueled the Salem witch trials. What do you do when the loonies are in control of the asylum?

withoutscene's picture
October 10th, 2010 | Link | I downloaded the actual

I downloaded the actual journal article and here is the explanation of how absenteeism and presenteeism were measured in the data set they used:

"Absenteeism and presenteeism are assessed in the NHWS sample using the Work Productivity and Activity Impairment (WPAI) questionnaire. The WPAI is a validated questionnaire, commonly used across various occupations and disease areas to assess employee productivity loss related to health. Absenteeism is measured in the WPAI using the following question: “During the past seven days, how many hours did you miss from work because of your health problems?” Presenteeism is assessed with the question, “During the past seven days, how much did your health problems affect your productivity while you were working?” Participants indicate their level of work impairment via a rating scale ranging from 0 to 10, with 0 indicating that “health problems had no effect on my work” and 10 indicating that “health problems completely prevented me from working.” Each response is assumed to represent a percentage reduction in productive work due to health problems (ie, a respondent reporting a value of 3 is assumed to have a 30% reduction in productive work, whereas a respondent reporting a 10 is assumed to be completely unproductive while at work)."

I haven't read the whole article--this is a time when I wish Sandy Szwarc was still de-bunking things like this--but there are still lots of ways in which their data and conclusions are fallable. Off the top of my head, they are only counting lack of productivity DUE TO HEALTH, which does not measure OVERALL absenteeism or presenteeism.

DeeLeigh's picture
October 11th, 2010 | Link | Also, it's an indirect

Also, it's an indirect measurement of an indirect measurement, and there are so many ways for it to be inaccurate that it's mindblowing.

You know how to measure fat people's absenteeism compared with others'? Cross reference employee BMI and actual time off, and control for (at least) age. Anything else is complete bullshit.

Alyssa October 11th, 2010 | Link | Bottom Line

Thanks for posting information on this article. If the study was funded, it is immediately suspect because again, as you noted, Allergan makes lapband paraphanelia for bariatric surgery. Such a company cannot objectively conduct such a study.

Also I tried to access the article in the journal you mentioned, and the only way to access it, is to purchase it. In essence, the media is allowed free access, but readers are not. In that way, the public cannot draw their own conclusions about the research. I think we should complain to the particular media source, here MSN, every time they pull this sort of thing and demand they post the full study along with the article.

Alyssa October 11th, 2010 | Link | Bullying and Harrassment

Here is another thought. If your coworker is IM'ing you on company time with this sort of trash, I think he is guilty of using company time for non-work-related activities, and should be reported to his supervisor. Secondly, I think his conduct may constitute bullying and harrassment. You may want to alert your Human Resources department as to his behavior. Depending upon your, local ordinances and state/national laws, what he is doing may be considered bullying/harrassment. If so, you might be able to file a complaint. In addition, under some ordinances/laws, if you make your employer aware of his behavior, and your employer does nothing to stop it, your employer may be liable for legal damages and fined.

If you were African American, would your employer tolerate this employee IM'ing you studies that show Black employees, because of their higher incidence of hypertension than the general population, cost employers more in health care costs? Hell, no.

CarrieP's picture
October 12th, 2010 | Link | Alyssa, I didn't mean to


I didn't mean to imply that this coworker was antagonizing me with this information. We're Facebook friends and he is well aware of (and in support of!) my stance on fat-related issues. I agree that if someone's coworker is harassing them in this manner they should be dealt with, but that is not the case here. It's more that he enjoys seeing me go off on someone, Julia Sugarbaker-style. Laughing out loud

pani113's picture
October 11th, 2010 | Link | I also wonder; and of course

I also wonder; and of course this is just speculation because I am not going to pay to look at the study, if they even controlled for type of occupation. Are they lumping in blue collar and service jobs with professionals? Statistically blue collar workers would be fatter as a group than professionals. (Of course there is extreme variation in both groups.) Blue collar and service workers have far less autonomy and alienation in their jobs. Health reasons would be one legitimate way of taking time off. Their jobs are also less secure. This seems to be a self-reported study. Some respondents may have feared employer retaliation if their time off was not health related. Dee-Leigh is right in that w/o the actual study, critiques don't hold much weight. But I have looked at many actual studies and their methodology is laughable. They would not get a D- in Research 101. But they don't need to. The public will never have access to them, so MSM has free rein in its interpretations!

"Fat can be beautiful. Intolerance is ALWAYS ugly!"

rebelle October 12th, 2010 | Link | As a fat person, the only

As a fat person, the only significant sick time I've taken at work IN FIVE YEARS was to be with my father as he died of pancreatic cancer in May. Those evil bastards want to factor that in to their bogus claims as well?

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