Breakfast, weight-loss and crappy science

Content note: (1) irony – could be considered offensive – isn’t intended that way; (2) weight loss dieting.

I’m not sure how we got onto the topic, but a few days ago, a group of us were talking about people who try to stow away in the wheel wells of airplanes, usually with tragic results. But a few people do make it.

I pointed out that this proves that it’s possible, and perhaps we should start a registry of these people who have successfully stowed away under airplanes and made it to their destination unscathed. We need to find out what these people are doing right, so we can pass on this information for the benefit of everyone.

Perhaps, the 23 people who survived such attempts between 1947 and 2012 had something in common? Perhaps they had all eaten breakfast that day, before setting off for their desperate attempt at a better life. This would of course prove that eating breakfast is the way to survive such a trip. Perhaps all of the survivors came from large families – suggesting that people should be encouraged to have bigger families, just in case any of them might attempt this escape, as family size is clearly protective against being crushed to death, dying of hypothermia, or suffocation due to lack of oxygen.

Seriously, I don’t want to make light of the horrors that these stories convey, the desperation, the poverty, the suffering and loss of life. And yes, this throwaway joke was in pretty poor taste.

But there is also a kernel of truth in it. This is what is being done with fat people. We all know that the failure rate of dieting attempts is ridiculously large. Even at the oft-quoted 5% mark, that would still be only a fifth the ‘success rate’ of stowaway survivors. Yet the National Weight Control Registry is taking exactly this approach. Turns out that most of the people on the registry (which requires a 30lb weight loss from your lifetime max, maintained for 1 year) eat breakfast every day. Public health advice: eating breakfast will help you lose weight. Correlation. Causation. People, really!

You can read more about how actually shitty the so-called ‘proof of successful weight loss’ is on this post and the ones that followed it.

A recent review and meta-analysis decided to actually look at the evidence regarding the proposed effects of breakfast on obesity (PEBO). They found that the belief in PEBO is not supported by the scientific evidence, which is rife with biased reporting of findings, misleading citations of others’ findings, incorrect use of causal language when such a relationship has not been shown, and a sub-optimal use of collective scientific resources.

I’m picking on breakfast because it is one of the most commonly cited ‘findings’, but this flawed reasoning is apparent throughout the ‘obesity’ literature and parroted unquestioningly by the weight management profession. Big Obesity likes to claim there is science behind their approach. Their definition of ‘science’ and mine clearly do not match.

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