A recent survey has produced, possibly for the first time, an obesity/overweight index for Irish counties. According to the research carried out by Hibernian Aviva Health (a major health insurance company), 48% of people in Ireland are overweight or dangerously overweight (obese) and almost a quarter of all adults do no physical exercise. In addition there was a gender bias, with a worrying 61% of males falling into this category compared to only 39% of females. According to the dataset, the county with the lowest percentage of overweight people was Kerry at 41% while at the other end of the market, Tipperary clocked in with a figure of 58%. This data is interesting and important, given the strong associations between obesity and ill-health, and is very worrying from a public health perspective. Check out the other counties in the table below and see if you can see a pattern (I’m not sure I can!).
However in looking at the data, a number of interesting issues are raised around provenance, ownership and geography which might make people think about data more generally. This data was generated by Hibernian Aviva via an online survey. The information is ‘self-reported’ by users of the website and analysed by using the body mass index (BMI) scoring system. The BMI index itself (which calculates a ratio/score from expected and observed heights and weights and breaks this into 4 broad categories), can be problematic. The data also comes from individuals typing their own heights and weights into the Hibernian Aviva website, something you can do yourself along with additional health checks (fascinating in themselves). If you do that, consider where that information goes. Although reported in an aggregate form in the above press release, it is also tied to a sound disclaimer which tells you how the data will be used. Yet the data gathering and reporting is surrounded by an assortment of subtle messages telling you how important health insurance is, the bottom line of the data collecting agency.
Finally, around the same time this report was published, the Slán Report, a national survey commissioned by the Department of Health & Children, was released for 2009 (using data from 2007). This is a national survey of BMI in the Republic and Northern Ireland and, using the same method suggests a national figure of 63% (24+39) obese or overweight. Again the values for males, at 70%, are higher than for females at 57%. Yet this single national value is the best level of geography available from the survey (a sample of 2,170) when compared with the privately collected data available at county level. Whether all of this points to; a) interesting new ways to collect data, b) the perils of self-reporting, c) the lack of spatial detail in public health information or d) the role of scare tactics in promoting a ‘new public health’ is up to you to decide!