The New England Journal of Medicine is set to report that “being even modestly overweight increases the chances of developing heart failure,” says the Associated Press. CNN has already featured the story a dozen times on its Headline News channel. And the Washington Post is all aflutter, quoting the study’s principal author as saying that “the general outcome is grim” for those of us with even a little extra meat on our bones.
But those of you with love-handles can cancel your difibrilator orders. It turns out that this media explosion is based on the flimsiest of evidence. In the study’s own words, “data are limited regarding the influence of overweight and lesser degrees of obesity on the risk of heart failure.” The authors also admitted in their text that “the hazard ratio for heart failure in overweight men did not reach statistical significance.” In other words, there’s no scientific proof.
We’ve seen this sort of scientific puffery before. In February 2001 the Washington Post reported that soda pop consumption had been definitively tied to overweight children. But David Ludwig, who authored the study in question, had actually concluded that “there is no clear evidence that consumption of sugar per se affects food intake in a unique manner or causes obesity.” Still, Ludwig’s publication inspired a host of hysterical newspaper editorials calling for reductions in soft drink consumption, as well as for outright bans in schools.