My turn

Statistics are just numbers until one of them touches your heart

2014-02-02T00:00:00Z Statistics are just numbers until one of them touches your heartBy Bill Vargo Times Columnist
February 02, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Last year, I wrote a column about the escalating number of deaths on Illinois highways. Every day, it seemed, the numbers kept climbing on the macabre overhead signs along the Dan Ryan Expressway.

The number might read 48 deaths so far in the year and next week, it would have climbed to 60. We become numb to those data points. The numbers are scary, but we attribute it to drunk drivers, icy roads and any number of other reasons.

The point is that we tend to ignore statistics until they hit home. Incarceration statistics don’t mean anything to us until we have a family member or a friend in prison.

Unemployment rates are just numbers until we lose our job and become a statistic.

The newest ream of statistics regards obesity, particularly childhood obesity. I could fill the rest of this column with the data associated with obesity in the U.S. For example, recent studies have shown that there was a higher prevalence of obesity in the Midwest and the South than in the Northeast and West.

The linkage to income level, depression, birth weight, and prenatal care are all part of the discussion. Meanwhile, families suffer and the cost in dollars and lost potential continues to climb ever higher.

This hit home recently when we learned about a dear friend who we hadn’t seen in some time; we’ll call him Jimmy to protect his privacy.

Jimmy was a neighbor when I lived in Griffith. He was a good kid, a bit shy and full of smiles when you got to know him. If you had asked him, he likely would have given you the shirt off of his back. Jimmy had some issues with his body type, but that always seemed to fluctuate.

He was close to his family and extended family, really close. When there was a sickness in the family, it hit him particularly hard. It is pretty clear that he had some level of depression that led to weight gain (and loss when the depression subsided).

Still, if you saw him, he’d be involved around town and continued his life until he simply couldn’t get around any longer.

Jimmy passed away last week from complications associated with obesity. The hole that is left in the lives of his family and friends cannot be measured. It may be that he was so depressed over the death of a family member that he died of a broken heart.

In the end, however, the size of his heart couldn’t keep up with the size person he had become.

So many people are lumped into the category of obese, morbidly obese, slightly overweight and so on. We can talk at great length about the numbers and trends, but in the end it comes down to human beings and the outsized hole that the loss of someone like Jimmy leaves in our lives.

Doctors and caregivers see patients like this and know implicitly that the higher you go on that trend line of obesity, the higher your risks are for diabetes, heart disease and a host of other medical conditions. The drivers of the obesity epidemic, such as depression, diet and prenatal care, are also factors.

But don’t worry about Jimmy. He is at peace now. His caring heart is finally at rest.

The opinions are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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