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Wednesday, April 25, 2007Or at least that's what the mainstream media is prepared to tell you.
Despite numerous studies over the years that have shown that breastfeeding (especially if done exclusively for six months and along with a slow introduction of solids for a year or longer) does help reduce the obesity, it apparently only takes one flawed study for the media to decide to toss all the rest.
On the other hand, it's sure doing a good job of getting us all to talk about the story and to link to it, though I'm sure a news site would neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeever sensationalize anything just to get more readers...
Anyway, there's a story over on MSNBC about a new study that's been making the rounds among breastfeeding circles.
While breast-feeding has many benefits, it won’t prevent a child from becoming fat as an adult, says a new study that challenges dogma from U.S. health officials.
The research is the largest study to date on breast-feeding and its effect on adult obesity.
“I’m the first to say breast-feeding is good. But I don’t think it’s the solution to reducing childhood or adult obesity,” said the study’s lead author, Karin Michels of Harvard Medical School.
Now go back and read that first quoted line from the story and then consider this:
Dogma: a religious doctrine that is proclaimed as true without proof
So apparently, the author of the article feels that U.S. docs simply believe, on faith, that breastfeeding would cut obesity. Apparently the author is unaware of the vast number of studies that have shown this to be true.
Don't you love how the media uses those great words to influence your perception of the story from the start? Let's hear it for unbiased reporting!
Continuing on, these lines from the ABC News coverage really jumped out at me:
The Harvard study, published online this week in the International Journal of Obesity, involved nearly 14,500 women who were breast-fed as infants and more than 21,000 who were not.
In 1989, the women were asked their height and weight and what those measurements were when they were children and at age 18. Then every two years, through 2001, they were asked to update their weight information. The surveyed women were all between 25 and 42 at the time of the 1989 questionnaires, Michels said.
Ok wait. Right now, in the comments. Tell me your height and weight today and then tell me what it was at 5, 10 and 18.
Can you do it? Bet you can't. I sure as heck can't. All I know is that when I was a senior in high school I was 5'7", a size 14 and the 147 pounds that was printed on my driver's license was a lie. ;)
In 2001, the mothers of these women were sent a questionnaire asking if their daughters had been breast-fed and for how long.
When possible, researchers checked medical records to confirm what the mothers and daughters recalled, but breast-feeding is not routinely documented. Still, the researchers believe the women's recollections of breast-feeding are reliable.
"A mother knows whether she breast-fed her child," said Michels, an associate professor of epidemiology.
Umm....ok. I didn't know that "because I said so" worked in research. I thought it only worked on children...and even then, not all the time.
It hasn't even been two years since I stopped pumping for Elnora and I continually tell people that I EPed for her for 14 months. Guess what? That's wrong. It was 13 months, almost to the day. Why do I say 14 months? I have no idea. Somewhere along the line that number popped out on accident and now it just comes out on its own and I end up having to correct myself.
That's only TWO years later.
My mother-in-law spent years telling me about her natural births and how great they were. Then, when I was pregnant with my first, we looked through her medical records. Turns out she had IV narcotics, a third degree episiotimy and a high forceps delivery.
She was as surprised as I was.
Sure...those memories...they're flawless. Oh yeah...and my mother-in-law was a nurse.
The study involved only women, but the researchers believe the results are equally true for men, Michels said.
Again with the "because I said so" logic. Does that REALLY work in academic settings?
So let's dig into the study a little bit and pull out some actual quotes. (If you are interested, you can view the entire study online.)
Breastfed infants gain weight more slowly during the first year of life than formula-fed infants, probably due to the natural limitations of available energy supply.
Don't you love that "natural limitations of available energy supply" wording? Don't you love how it makes it sound like breastfeeding is denying children that privilege of weight gain? Breastfeeding only has a certain available energy supply...it's not good enough people!!
...sorry...got a little carried away there.
Breast milk is lower in protein than infant formula, which may affect growth.
Again, breast milk is lacking and formula rocks. We all know how great protein is, right? And your breast milk...it doesn't have as much as formula! FOR SHAME! Your children will grow into girly men and frail women that can't stand up to the rigors of life in our society.
NHS II participants were also asked to recall their body shape at ages 5 and 10 using a nine-level figure drawing
Umm. Ok. Want to see the drawings they got to choose from?
As we know, ALL women have perfect self-images that accurately reflect how they really look. I'm sure that asking women to pick themselves off of a drawing chart both now and at prior points in their life is going to provide accurate data.
Now, let's consider a few things about this study.
First, there have been numerous studies in the past that have shown that breastfeeding DOES lower the rates of obesity in children and some have even shown lower risks further down the road. That said, we shouldn't be surprised to see one come out that shows something different. Even without getting suspicious of motivations and data, consider this from Wikipedia's entry on the "misuse of statistics."
In marketing terms all a company has to do to promote a neutral (useless) product is to find or conduct, for example, 20 studies with a confidence level of 95%. Even if the product is really useless, on average one of the 20 studies will show a positive effect purely by chance (this is what a 95% level of confidence means) The company will ignore the 19 inconclusive results and promote endlessly the one study that says the product/idea is good.
Now, let's consider that one of the qualities of a good study is a study population that matches the general population. This study was made up of...nurses.
JUST nurses. Mostly white nurses (96% to be exact) at that.
Anyone else out there think that Caucasian nurses and their lifestyles and their choices are a perfect representation of the general populace?
Didn't think so.
That tells me that the only thing this study MIGHT be good for is predicting the impact of breastfeeding on obesity for nurses.
Oh yeah, it was just female nurses too...no men allowed ladies.
Add in the fact that this study is based on self-reported data, much of which relied on memory from decades prior makes me suspicious to begin with. Now, I'm not a stats person, but I think we have a few readers that are. Anyone care to weigh in on the problems with both self-reported and retrospective studies? From my understandings, the quality of data in these studies is highly suspect, but I'd love to hear some input from someone that actually knows something about statistics.
Finally, anyone wanna do some digging to see where the funding for this study came from? Because I find it very interesting that on the heels of an announcement about how researchers are developing a new type of baby formula that will "lower risks of obesity" we suddenly get wind of "the largest study EVER" and how it shows that breastfeeding does NOT lower the risks of obesity.
I'm sure those two things aren't in ANY way connected....
So basically what we've got here is a retrospective self-reported study of female nurses and their own mother's memories.
Yeah...that's the type of data that makes a compelling argument for tossing out all prior peer-reviewed research.
By the way, I've taken up real estate. Anyone want to buy a bridge?
Labels: Stats and Studies