Diabetes: lies, damned lies and statistics

On Sunday, BBC News ran a story about diabetes. It drew facts from a study in the Lancet and focused on the fact that the number of people suffering from diabetes worldwide had more than doubled since 1980. But the article’s title read as follows:

Diabetes rate ‘doubles’ – Imperial College and Harvard research suggests

I took huge issue with the word rate. Here’s why.

The world’s population in 1980 was 4,435m. The Lancet estimated that 153m of those people suffered from diabetes, an incident rate of 3.45%.

In 2011, the world’s population has increased to 6,930m, the Lancet estimating that 347m of these suffered from diabetes, an incident rate of 5.01%.

The rate of diabetes has indeed increased. It has increased by 45%. It certainly has not doubled.

It frustrates me that such a qualified and reputable news source as the BBC can misleadingly report because a failure to understand such a basic mathematical concept.

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