Monday, November 18, 2013

Depressed? Perhaps you had childhood abdominal issues...

child bent over abdominal pain
I admit that when CBS News published an article with the title "Childhood stomach aches may lead to anxiety, depression as an adult," I cringed a little. My first thought was Uh-oh, this sounds like another mis-understanding of the "correlation does not imply causation" phenomenon. After all, I see people generalizing all the time - especially in the news.

However, upon further review, I found out that this new item was simply summarizing a scientific article entitled "Functional Abdominal Pain in Childhood and Long-term Vulnerability to Anxiety Disorders" which was published in Pediatrics in August, 2013. Hmmm, perhaps this story wasn't some half-baked nonsense?

Although I was unable to see the actual paper and therefore unable to see the methodology for patient selection, it appears as though a good deal of statistical rigor was applied to the experiment. Let's assume that everything contained in the journal article is statistically solid so we don't get bogged down on that aspect.

All of that being said, the CBS treatment of the subject would have been greatly improved with a simple graph. It doesn't need to be fancy or flashy - just something that people can quickly grasp. Using the numbers that CBS printed (the original Pediatrics article had several numbers denoting different aspects of the experiment which were important, but we'll leave those out for now and focus on the story itself), it could have looked something like this:

child stomach ache change of mental disorder
Just a little graph goes a long way...

That's better. Now I have the ability to understand the gist of the article with a glance. If I choose to read further, I can, but at least now there is a snapshot of the data in my mind to which I can refer. Let's hope the journalism industry adopts this sort of practice in a wide-spread manner so that we can all benefit.


All imagery used in this article created by Patrick Rhodes. Any reproduction of same requires my permission. That being said, you are free to cite this article freely, as long as you include a link to it.

Graph fonts created by:
Khrys Bosland

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