The excellent Jonathan Chait makes the mistake of actually *believing* Newt Gingrich:
The Plank: Gingrich expounds at length upon his ideas in a recent interview with Brian Carney of The Wall Street Journal editorial page. At one point Gingrich offers up what Carney describes as a "telling anecdote":
We just got a report yesterday that was in the newspaper that children on Medicaid are six times as likely to be obese as children who are not on Medicaid. Now even for a liberal that should give them some pause as to how bad Medicaid is as a system.
Actually, this is a statistic, not an anecdote...
Actually, Jonathan, it's neither a statistic nor an anecdote. 24% of kids are obese. 34% of kids on Medicaid are obese. 21% of kids not on Medicaid are obese. It's not 6 to 1--it's 3 to 2.
Where does the 6 to 1 figure come from? It comes from a claim by Thomson Medstat that kids on Medicaid are six times more likely to be *treated* for *severe* obesity--about one in a hundred for the Medicaid population, and less than two in a thousand for the non-Medicaid population. Thomson Medstat "wouldn't identify the eight states that provided the Medicaid data because the programs had insisted on anonymity. The report is not being published, but is being presented to the company's clients." In other words, it's not going to be peer-reviewed.
Is Medicaid causing obesity among children--as Gingrich claims? Extremely doubtful. 28% of children in the South are obese, compared to 22% in the rest of the country. 34% of low-income children are obese, compared to 19% of high-income children. One-third of African-American children are obese, compared to one-fifth of white children. We do have a big fat problem here--more serious among the poor than the rich, more serious in the South than elsewhere, more serious among African-Americans than among whites. But there's no sign anywhere that access to Medicaid makes children fatter. No sign at all.
Jonathan: next time you are tempted to write about an apparently strange and interesting fact spouted out by some right-winger, *lie down* until the temptation goes away--or at least call somebody like Ken Thorpe of Emory who can figure out what is really going on.