CDC: Computer error inflated obesity death rates

Sunday, January 23, 2005

January 24, 2005

NEW YORK - A computer error caused the CDC in a March 2004 report to overstate by about 35,000 the number of annual obesity-related deaths in the United States, according to a letter last week from four agency researchers published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study originally predicted that obesity would surpass tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death. It also concluded that in 2000 there were nearly as many obesity-related deaths, at 400,000, as there were deaths related to tobacco use, at 435,000. This figure represented a 33% increase in obesity-related deaths from 1990 to 2000.
According to last week’s letter, however, obesity will not overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death by this year. CDC director Julie Gerberding, one of the four authors of the study, said a software malfunction contributed to computational errors that prevented the update of spreadsheets with data from earlier years with new data from 2000.
The CDC has not released the final report on its internal investigation into the flawed report, but sources familiar with the situation said the report will recommend that the CDC implement an electronic system to improve access to research and work to develop an improved definition for obesity-related deaths, according to the Wall Street Journal.