Iain Lees-Galloway believes in bad science and blaming poor people

Iain Lees-Galloway, MP for Palmerston North, opened a Burger King store there.

He’s also Labour’s Associate Health spokesperson.

The reaction in our media was completely predictable:  OMG, how dare he promote ~bad foods~, that’s not ~healthy~, he’s ~promoting obesity~.  Iain himself had some cute prepared lines about Burger King being a sometimes food and the company having a ~responsibility~ to ~help people make bad choices~.

After all, obesity is rising!!!!!

Initially, I had a big ol’ post typed out about why this is stupid.  But I really can’t be bothered rehashing the same shit, so here’s the bullet points:

  • obesity figures compiled by the Ministry of Health are based on BMI.  So they’re simply bullshit, even if they did show anything resembling a OBESITY EPIDEMIC!!!!!!!!11
  • the “poor choices” narrative to explain obesity is sanctimonious assholery
  • poverty
  • ethnicity
  • just a minor aside, just when are the Labour Party going to get the “stop fulfilling the right’s nanny state propaganda by trying to dictate how people live their lives” memo?


  1. Alpacaman

    QoT- good post, as always really. I am bringing myself out from under my rock, however, to disagree with one of your points. The rest I agree with.

    It may be the same old shit, but BMI is a valid tool of measurement. On an individual basis it has huge issues, yes, often giving completely the wrong idea. The epidemiologist know this, but they have also found that BMI can be a specific and useful measure when applied over groups. Over populations it can be very handy.

    Data given in BMI isn’t as good as a direct measurement, and can certainly be taken with a grain of salt, but to claim it is bullshit isn’t reflective of the truth.

    • QoT

      You know, Alpacaman, I hear this a lot.

      Here’s my admittedly-not-an-epidemiologist’s question: if a measurement cannot distinguish between the captain of a national sports team and a sedentary fat dude, how precisely is it “a useful measure” for the health of groups?

      It’s not objectively measuring anything that’s useful for the members of the group, so … magically, we go “OMG OBESITY ON THE RISE!!!” when it’s applied to a group, even though the magical number generated cannot isolate “obese” (and that’s even if that were a medical condition which had any kind of established causal relationships to any illness) from “stocky” or “powerlifter” or “shorter than average”.

      The fact is, BMI gets treated like a magical formula which tells us about health. It doesn’t.

      • Alpacaman

        I figured you did hear this a lot, I suppose I wanted a turn. For your question, it looks like you are still using it on an individual basis. Just as BMI overestimates body fat in many, it is underestimated in many too, such as those who are taller than average. This leads to a much more even keel than it would first look like, given a large group.

        BMI doesn’t cope with a high lean mass very well, certainly. Athletes present an issue, but they do not currently represent a large enough group of the population to render BMI useless. When average, or median, BMI rises it is generally not because the population has decided to start pumping iron. Or become shorter.

        The NPR article does raise a couple of good points, which I have tried to address. The majority of it shows something of a misunderstanding, and taste for hyperbole. The problem with lists of (conveniently) 10 everywhere.

        A point the linked article does raise is that of the discrete categories vs the continuous reality. Yes, the very nature of categories does not fit with the biology, but it doesn’t have to if this is used as an indicator only, as is intended. It isn’t a direct measure.

        You are correct in that BMI is not magical, it does have issues, and there are better measures out there. It shouldn’t be treated as a be all end all number, but it remains a useful indicator, especially in combination with other types of data, as our government does collect. It seems to have (unfortunately) been given a higher status than it really has by the media, but that isn’t to say it is bullshit.

        Better measures would be used if possible, but really when it comes to entire populations these measures prove too expensive to implement.

        Hey, and depending on when you read this, do have a nice Christmas/Boxing Day, enjoy your break!

      • weka

        Just because they’re using the wrong tool, doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. I get your criticism of the BMI, and completely agree that obesity does not directly equate to ill health. However there are public health issues associated with fast food (irrespective of body size/shape).

        Yes, poverty, age, ethnicity and gender are all significant factors. So is diet.

        • QoT

          weka, the term “fast food” can be applied to a ridiculously huge range of food options – McDonald’s to Subway to fish’n’chips to Kapai salads. So I’m simply not impressed by the idea that “fast food” is “a public health issue”.

          People not vaccinating their kids against tetanus is a public health issue. People eating a burger – when we don’t know what makes people obese, and we certainly don’t know how to make “overweight” people “normal” weight – is not a public health issue.

          Of course, as someone who claims we do know those things, the Labour Party’s Associate Health spokesperson could certainly try to affect policy instead of appearing at self-contradicting photo ops.

  2. peterlepaysan

    BMI is based on statistics.
    Take your pick out of Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics.

    With statistics anyone can “prove” anything.

    To be fair real statisticians do not, they actually understand the limits of their tools.

    Epidemiologists have no understanding. One of my favourites is the Auckland University one declaring butter to be poisonous.

    As I understand it the BMI came about through a study in the 1920’s surveying only people of European extraction.

    It was done for actuarial reasons. To set premiums for life insurance policies.

    No conflict of interest?

    Keep the the desired BMI low means higher premiums for perfectly healthy insurers.

    Of course our highly trained medical profession and our mediaeval nutritionist/dieticians or the Palaeolithic story tellers known as journalists/reporters commentators have questioned? NOT!

    • Alpacaman

      Rod Jackson does have his reasons, believe me. I’ve heard him talk about butter, and his position is a well considered one. It is subject to debate, but really, neither side is wanting of doctorates, and Rod’s argument has been largely unscathed. To claim his position untenable from the start is not reasonable.

      ‘With statistics anyone can “prove” anything.’ –

      Statistics cannot ever prove a thing. That isn’t how it works. Good statistics can be used as evidence to see what is going on, bad statistics will be demolished in peer review.

      BMI is under the control of WHO, and the numbers used are subject to constant assessment and revision. Insurance companies do not feature.

      And as for declaring that epidemiologists ‘have no understanding’, well, I’m not sure you are in any position to say that.

      That aside, you enjoy your break too!