A medical outlier or a mathematical anomoly

For whatever reason certain some subjects are considered more “newsworthy” than others. Professors of journalism, and there are such people, would probably spend many hours explaining why some topics fly into the pages of newspapers and others don’t.

As a freelancer it is much more important simply to identify what these key subjects are than waste my life trying to rationalise how it is that they got there. One of these topics that newspapers love is obesity.

Any article about the levels of obesity, the consequences of obesity or the causes of obesity always stands a really good chance of getting in the paper.

Governments have also been keen to appear proactive on the topic and so one of the things they have brought in is the Child Monitoring Programme (CMP). The scheme sees every pupil weighed at the start and finish of primary school and the results have shown how kids are getting fatter and fatter.

The real causes of this “obesity epidemic”; an explosion of cheap junk food and a failure to tackle profiteering food companies, a rise in sedentary computer entertainment and parents too paranoid to let their kids out of their homes are all too complex for politicians to grapple with – so their solution has been “let’s measure people”.

Results of this huge child weighing procedure are made by council employed health workers and then collated by Public Health England (PHE) before being published on the website of the Heath and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

You can see a summary of the results here and I used the huge zip file of results from last year’s survey to do this article for the Sun back in April.


Imagine my surprise then when this article appeared in the Daily Mirror this weekend, which was essentially the same but included a humungous 24st 6lb kid as the biggest in the country.

How had I missed it? Much to my annoyance I hadn’t missed this enormously fat 11-year-old but I had discarded him as being a statistical anomaly.

Why? Well in the full spreadsheet he is recorded as being 155cm tall and weighing in at 155kg. The two figures were exactly the same. Also on the spreadsheet the second fattest kid also had identical numbers for height and weight – 151.6cm and 151.6kg. After lots of checks with the PHE, HSCIC and the two councils that these children were supposed to come from I decided to accept they were recording mistakes – examples of where an overworked nurse had simply put down the height measurement in both the height and the weight box.

I don’t criticise the Daily Mirror for using the 24st 6lb hulk, as I imagine the Freedom of Information response they received didn’t also have the height measurements as well. But it would be interesting to know if there really is a boy in Lambeth – because that’s where the figure was compiled – who is struggling to get around with a metric weight measurement that exactly matches his metric height measurement. A physical and mathematical curiousity.

UPDATE: 6/5/15: The Mirror has come up trumps in that its 24st schoolboy comes from the 12/13 year as opposed to the 13/14 dataset that I was looking at. The paper’s writer has tweeted me to say the height and weight measurement of the child were different – so it would appear they found a genuine 24st child whereas my one was a phantom.


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