Risk is a risky word

I guess we're done figuring out what causes eating disorders. We've moved on to what eating disorders cause:

"TEENAGE girls with early signs of anorexia and bulimia are twice as likely to be addicted to drugs, suffer a mental illness or have an abortion

It is time for a campaign against the sloppy use of the word "risk." In popular use, it implies "causes." More often than not, when a headline draws these conclusions they are really talking about correlation; that two things are found together and as one changes the other changes as well.

One may cause the other, or both things might be caused by some other common factor.

Reading the headline above, most people will conclude that messing about with one's eating is a gateway drug to delinquency and ruin. I read it and think, no kidding: anxiety and attentional and affective disorders run in families. Erratic eating patterns may be an early warning of the benefits of a more structured, lower stress, more nurturing environment for this child.


  1. gee - mental distress associated with ummmm - mental distress

    But of course it is all so complicated and we can't really blame the journalists for getting it wrong when it's so easy to fall down the same holes ourselves. "Eating disorders can be complex" possibly the most annoying at the time and most true thing that has been said to me in our long old journey

  2. I'm sure you and I can agree that phrase is a three-edged sword: it can be used to comfort a person genuinely struggling to understand, to chide someone for simplistic conclusions, but it can also be used to obfuscate muddy thinking!

  3. Oh yes, there's a lot of muddy thinking out there and not always from the "dark side"

  4. Nothing really to do with this post, but I simply had to post it somewhere. On a medical blog the doctor writing has just posted

    "What we have to do today, when we finish laughing, is try to think what the doctors of the future will choose to laugh at about current medical management"

    Now of course, parents don't laugh at their children's illnesses, they cry and get told they are being jellyfish. On the other hand if they try to make a joke about anything at all with one of the therapists we came across they just get very sternly told off.

    But just suppose we could try to act like overgrown medical students
    which of our currently held beliefs will we laugh at in the future

  5. thank you! I hate it when people equate correlation with causation


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