A Scale Would Be Easier

A Scale Would Be Easier

So often I do double take when I see the titles cross my screen from my PubMed feed. For example Predicting visceral obesity based on facial characteristics.

My first thought was this is stupid.

Then I remember there is the curious literature on the ear lobe crease as a marker for coronary artery disease. I am not certain if I believe it, although it is fun to note that the Emperor Hadrian died from what appeared to be heart disease and his statues have deep ear lobe creases. It is probably more indicative of some of the whimsey that occurs in medicine.

Then I read the article. Nope. Probably stupid.  Perhaps I am missing some key concept, but I do not see the point of what was a tremendous amount of wasted work. They took 11,347 Korean men and women ranging in age from 18 to 80. That's right. Over eleven thousand people.

They photographed their faces and

Height and weight were measured to the nearest 0.1 cm and 0.1 kg, respectively, with a digital scale and WC was measured using non-elastic tape along the waist and was measured to the nearest 0.1 cm.

11,347 times.

Then they measured 15 different distances on the photographs of faces. They did that 11,347 times.

Then data mined to see if there was a relationship between the facial measurements and visceral obesity.

I know when I gain weight my face gets fat and my glasses get tight. So I would expect some relationship. Also, remember Corollary 3:

The greater the number and the lesser the selection of tested relationships in a scientific field, the less likely the research findings are to be true.

And they sure tested a lot of relationships. And they found

FD_94_194 (the distance between both inferior ear lobes) was the best indicator of the normal and viscerally obese subjects in the following groups: Men-18-50 (p ≤ 0.0001, OR = 4.610, AUC = 0.821), Men-50-80 (p ≤ 0.0001, OR = 2.624, AUC = 0.735), and Women-18- 50 (p ≤ 0.0001, OR = 2.979, AUC = 0.76). In contrast, FD_43_143 (mandibular width) was the strongest predictor in Women-50-80 (p ≤ 0.0001, OR = 2.099, AUC = 0.679).

Even if true, why bother? It is high tech phrenology of a sort, and clinically who is ever going to take careful digital pictures and do measurements when all you have to do is weigh a patient and measure their waist?

The author gives an interesting short review of the relationship between facial characteristics and various medical associations. But this study essentially does 11,347 measurements to say fat people have fat faces. It is not like the fat faces cause visceral obesity. It is not like you are going to alter the facial measurements with plastic surgery for central weight loss. Maybe I should not have mentioned that, since now I bet someone will get it into their head to give it a try.

The author suggests

The results of the present study may provide clinical hints that enable alternative diagnosis of VO in the remote healthcare monitoring service, emergency medicine, and u-healthcare fields; the results may also lead to the development of advanced applications in predicting specific health problems.

Somehow I do not think so. Just stand on a scale. Or look at the patient. Yep. That's a big belly.


The research was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Science, ICT & Future Planning (No. 2006-2005173) (NRF-2012-0009830 and NRF-2009-0090900).

Paying for supplies and technicians for this.  Doesn't Koreas have a better use for their money?  

I nominate this for an Ig.

Real Effects of Random Noise?
Points of Interest 7/18/2014