Mr Epidemiology

No, I'm not a skin doctor


September 2011

Attitudes to Publically Funded Obesity Treatment and Prevention In countries where healthcare is funded by taxpayers, concerns over whether or not obesity treatment should be included under the umbrella of national healthcare is an ongoing concern. While this is also a concern in countries with private healthcare, in the public healthcare system the cost may be borne by society as a whole.

Perhaps the biggest issue in supporting obesity treatment programs is *not* whether or not there is a need for treatment: it’s obvious these people need help. The underlying issue is whether or not there is *public support* for treatment. Skim through the comments section on any CBC or Globe and Mail piece on obesity, and it is clear that this is a very contentious issue.

Hospital's can provide treatment for obesity. But is there public support for extreme measures such as surgery?

Prejudice and discrimination against the obese is not new, and last year the Canadian Obesity Network, along with partners, hosted the 1st Canadian Summit on Weight Bias and Discrimination (for more information, see the executive summary.) Knowing this prejudice exists, researchers in Denmark set out to investigate public support for obesity treatment, and to identify predictors of this support.

Continue reading “Attitudes to Publically Funded Obesity Treatment and Prevention”

Do cartoons affect child attention spans?

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for

EDIT 27/09/11: This piece was selected by Jason Goldman in his weekly roundup! Thanks Jason!

I was on the phone with my mom recently, and she told me about a recent study she saw on CTV stating that watching SpongeBob Squarepants was bad for children. I scoured the internet, and found the research article in question. While searching, I also found reference to the study in the media. The headlines were … disturbing. They ranged from the factual “SpongeBob may impair 4-year-olds’ brains” and “Young Attention Spans Impaired by SpongeBob and Rapid Games, Study Says” to the more controversial “So your four-year-old can’t concentrate? He’s probably been watching SpongeBob” and finally throwing all logic and reason out of the window and claiming “Study says SpongeBob makes kids stupid.” (Those are all the actual headlines) As you can imagine this just made me more interested in the actual paper itself – in particular if I would be able to use the line “Researchers call SpongeBob Stupid” and cite it.

A threat to your child's intelligence?

As someone who watched a fair share of Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles  as a kid, I wanted to see how such claims were made, and what the actual study was. And yes, it was Teenage Mutant HERO Turtles. In the UK they changed the word Ninja to Hero, as Ninja had violent connotations. True story.

More after this word from our sponsors … (click read more)

Continue reading “Do cartoons affect child attention spans?”

Interesting reads: September 18th – 24th, 2011

I like to tweet random things (follow me @MrEpid), but for those who don’t use Twitter, here are some interesting posts I’ve come across this past week:

Have a great weekend everybody!


Contagion and Social Media

A movie poster for Contagion

Last week I ran a story about the movie Contagion, and my thoughts about it. I kept it pretty simple, and avoided a lot of the plot. But in this article, I’m going to go ahead and assume you’ve watched the movie, or that spoilers don’t bother you too much.

I really enjoyed the movie. I know some people found the movie a little dry, and some found it shallow, but I thought it struck a good balance between believable enough without being outlandish – a fact bolstered by how the producers had CDC staff on hand to act as creative consultants. After all, if movies like GI Joe can have military personnel to help them and make sure the military guys are appropriate, why wouldn’t you have an Epidemiologist on hand for a movie about a virus outbreak? I thought the faceless, unrelenting virus was a great “villain” and drove the action forward with a sense of urgency and dread.

When the movie ended, I was happy, but I was left with questions about the movie’s realism. What would the CDC do if there was such an outbreak? How do they plan to tackle it? Would they use traditional means like the news, or do they plan to use social media as well? They’ve updated their website about it and written a blog post too. But those are rather dry – I’d love to be able to sit down with real EIS Agents and ask them questions.

So you can imagine how excited I was to hear that the CDC would be holding a live Q and A on Twitter with four EIS agents.

Continue reading “Contagion and Social Media”

Interesting reads: September 11th – 17th, 2011

I like to tweet random things (follow me @MrEpid), but for those who don’t use Twitter, here are some interesting posts I’ve come across this past week:

Have a great weekend everybody!


Movie Review: Contagion

So recently, I mentioned a new movie was coming out named Contagion. There’s been a lot of interesting buzz surrounding the movie on the internet, and several colleagues and I were excited to see a movie about Epidemiologists. So we ventured down to our local theatre to check it out.

I’ve tried to keep it as spoiler-free as possible, and I’ve tried to keep key details from being revealed. However, as with all movie reviews, if you want to be surprised by the movie, don’t read it.

Review after the jump.

Continue reading “Movie Review: Contagion”

Interesting reads: September 3rd – 10th, 2011

I like to tweet random things (follow me @MrEpid), but for those who don’t use Twitter, here are some interesting posts I’ve come across this past week:

  • The video above is an ad for the movie Contagion, now in theatres. The Epidemiology department at my university is going this Sunday at 7pm. So if you want to watch a movie about epidemiology with real life epidemiologists, come on by!
  • The CDC writes a blog post about Contagion, and how they would deal with a real life outbreak.
  • Scientific American comments about how the movie is grounded in fact – including teaching Gwyneth Paltrow how to pipette!
  • In more scientific news, Dr Arya Sharma reviews a paper recently published in the Lancet about the effectiveness of Weight Watchers, and if we should outsource weight-loss efforts to them. NPR also comments on the article

Have a great weekend everybody!


Blog Update: A New Series – Epi Night School!

Good News Everyone!

Rene Najera hosted a very popular blog that has since been taken down. As part of his blog, he started a series entitled “Epi Night School,” where he briefly covered common experimental designs, and talked about their strengths and weaknesses. EpiRen has graciously allowed me to repost them here with my own edits.

I’m going to keep the spirit alive, but also provide page references in common Epidemiology textbooks such as Rothman’s Epidemiology: An Introduction, Hennekens’ Epidemiology in Medicine and Szklo and Nieto’s Epidemiology: Beyond the Basics.

Thanks Rene!

Using Video Games to Model Real Life Outbreaks

Those of you who know me know that I’m a video game nerd. And comic book nerd. And just nerdy nerd in general. So when I read an article that used World of Warcraft to model disease outbreaks, I jumped on it.

World of Warcraft is a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) and forms the butt of many jokes in shows like Southpark, The Simpsons and others. I’ve never played it myself, but I lived with a guy who did so picked up a few things. Basically, you pick a player class (barbarian, wizard etc) and then join a “guild” and do quests together. These vary from the mundane to the epic (“kill this dragon”). It is, allegedly, a lot of fun. And a lot of that fun comes from being in a group of 50-60 like minded people, all playing out their fantasies as an elf, warlock, goblin etc.

World of Warcraft (WoW) has a very intricate world that has grown up around it. Gold provides an in-game economy, and treasures you gain from slaying foes give people items to trade. And since it is based around the actions of people, each quest can be very different from the last. Sometimes this can result in inadvertently hilarious consequences; the video below shows a guild meticulously planning their attack. However, when a player decides that he’s had enough, he runs in screaming his name (“LEEEEROOOOYYYYY JENNNKINNNSSSSS”). This results in his team panicking, and all their planning going to waste. To quote Robert Burns: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.” I’m pretty sure he was talking about WoW when he wrote that.

So you have this society with thousands of players all logging on regularly, heavily invested in their characters, spending anywhere upwards of 40-60 hours a week in the game. What happens when a “virus” is introduced into the game?

More after the loading screen … (click read more)

Continue reading “Using Video Games to Model Real Life Outbreaks”

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