Friday 6 December 2013

Obesogenic environments?

Gareth Morgan wanted restrictions on where "fake food" outlets might be located.
Placement of junk food outlets – local communities have a say over the placement of alcohol outlets, but we can’t stop junk food outlets setting up around our schools or clustering in poor neighbourhoods. This could be changed if planners had to take health into consideration in their decisions.
From The Lancet, online version 29 November 2013:
Influence of the retail food environment around schools on obesity-related outcomes: a systematic review
This review of the scientific literature found very little evidence for an effect of the retail food environment surrounding schools on food purchases and consumption patterns, but some evidence of an effect on bodyweight. Given the general lack of evidence for association with the mediating variables of food purchasing and food consumption, and the observational nature of the studies included in this review, it is possible that this finding is a result of residual confounding.


  1. Eric says :

    "Until now, the only bit of paid work I've done on alcohol-related matters was an analysis of the Collins & Lapsley figures on the social costs of alcohol for NABIC. That was handled as a consultancy contract through the University's Research and Innovation office."
    and so on.
    What we have in our country is a supremely gifted individual, who goes to frontiers with his eye open and his compass out.
    I do not mind him being questioned, but I do mind the sheer socio/political garbage machine that exists in this country.

    The machine is full of idiots who can tell Mr. Eric what he should write and when.
    Eric produces assessments and economic outcomes which are open for anybody to read or challenge. I will not even bother myself with the loaded questions he received, yes I will.
    " Do you expect me to believe you aren't conflicted by this arrangement? "

    sweet jesus some people can not see a gift horse .

  2. Congratulations!

    It's always good to see thorough disclosure, and to preserve it as a basic norm, especially with respect to things like agreement to prepublication review of research[1], but disclosure does have limits as a general principle. This comment is on that general principle, not intended in any way as a criticism of your research and funding -- as you know, we are largely in agreement on alcohol and drug policy (though not, perhaps, on tobacco policy).

    On any genuinely controversial topic, where intelligent people can disagree in good faith[2], bribing academics to say things they don't believe is not very cost-effective. It's usually a much better strategy to find someone who already has the views you want and buy them a bigger megaphone. That's always been an important strategy for the pharmaceutical industry in promoting new and not-really-improved treatments.
    That is, although you are, generally speaking, right in your analysis of alcohol policy issues, and your conclusions do follow from the data and your established methodologic commitments, the brewers presumably aren't doing this *because* you're right, they are doing this because what you say tends to be helpful to their position. They are coughing up the money not because they expect the money to change the policy implications of your views (where disclosure would help), but because they expect the policy implications of your views to stay the same (where disclosure doesn't help).

    So, in general, there's a tradeoff between the definite benefits of a larger amount of informed participation on an issue and the selection-bias problem. And that's why it's socially useful to have at least some rational people around who would not accept funding from a group with an interest in the outcome, and to recognise that a norm of disclosure is necessary but may not be sufficient.

    [1] It's entirely clear from what you say that the Brewers Association doesn't have any entitlement to see what you write before it's published, but in analogous situations in clinical research that would be a good thing to have as an explicit point, since it's one of the more common perversions of academic freedom in that context.

    [2] yes, I do know the Aumann Agreement Theorem. Even so.

  3. Thanks, Thomas.

    It's clear that I need to clarify one bit. I'll be sending a draft of anything substantial to the Brewers, but they've only right to give me feedback on it "to clarify content and offer industry insight"; nothing out of that is binding. I took it as a courtesy heads-up rather than anything else. Since there's no mechanism for them to demand changes to anything, I didn't know this was something that typically needed including in a disclosure statement. Consider it disclosed.

    Agree with your other points. I'll note that the ban-everything folks have had some pretty substantial megaphones for rather a while now.

  4. Eric,

    The mechanism in the.clinical research cases is either a requirement to respond to their concerns, or just delay to allow counterlobbying, lawyering up,.etc. I don't think it's a.risk in your work, but it is for big clinical trials