- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2005


ATLANTA — Blaming a computer software error, the government today admitted overstating the nation’s weight problem in a widely reported study last year that said obesity was about to overtake smoking as the No. 1 cause of death in the United States.

The study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in March 2004 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, said obesity-related deaths climbed from 1990 to 2000 to 400,000 a year — an increase of 100,000.

In the journal’s latest issue, the government ran a correction, saying the increase was a more modest 65,000 deaths.

Donna Stroup, acting director for the CDC’s coordinating center for health promotion, attributed the mistake to a computer software error.

The original study put the number of tobacco-related deaths per year at a little less than 435,000 and contended that more Americans soon could be dying of obesity instead of smoking if current trends persisted.

Despite the correction, the agency said the finding that obesity is a major cause of death still stands.

“The combination of diet, physical inactivity and tobacco are all leading causes of death, causing far more than a majority of total deaths in this country in the year 2000,” Miss Stroup said. “Regardless of the controversy, it’s clear to people these are the three underlying causes of death most important to the country.”

The errors in the study were discovered soon after it was published, as scientists inside and outside the agency began to dispute its findings. That prompted the CDC to review the study, using two independent statisticians.



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