March 24, 2010

Suze Orman's 2 Pound per $1000 Hidden Debt Rule

Another episode of Suze Orman show brings us another example of Suze's amateur psychologist quackery.   This time was during a question from a caller named Jen from New York City.   Jen was a married school teacher with a 17 month old child.   They had bought a 5 bedroom home outside NY city and were under water on the loan.  They owed about $470k and the house was worth probably $430k.   They had a combined income of $150k, around $22k in credit card debts and no savings.   Jen had a habit of buying new cars every year or two.  It turns out that Jen's husband had hid some credit card debt and tax debt from her.    I believe Jen's question was something about what she should do with the house.

Now forget all the other stuff about Jen.  Suze seized on the hidden debt.   During the segment Suze declared that in her experience Suze had found that for every $1,000 of debt that is hidden a person will gain about 2 pounds of body weight.   So she asks Jen how much she'd gained and what do you know, Jen had gained about 30 pounds of weight!!

Wow.   I was a bit amazed Suze would make this kind of declaration.   This 'rule' of Suze's appeared to be completely unscientific and lacking in any credible evidence.   Suze did not cite any kind of scientific study or source for this concept.   She didn't talk about doing any research or interviewing numerous people or anything like that.   It seems like Suze came up with this idea of hers based on some anecdotal evidence.   Maybe I'm missing something and theres real science to back this but I highly doubt it.

I don't really doubt that the stress of debt or financial problems could help add to weight gains.   So the basic premise that there is some correlation between hidden debt and weight gain is fairly believable theory to me.  The real problem here is that theres nothing more than Suze's anecdotal evidence to support her theory.   In fact there is scientific evidence that psychological stress from things king difficulty paying your bills can impact your weight.  While I'm not arguing against the general idea that theres a tie between stress and weight gain I don't think you can use that to conclude such a specific relationship as $1,000 hidden debt = 2 pounds.

Extremely small sample size based on anecdotal evidence.  Suze can't possibly have much of any data on the amount of weight gained by people with hidden debts.  I'm sure Suze has had contact with various people who have hidden debt.   And I bet that she has noticed that some of those people are over weight.  But I can't imagine that everyone Suze talks to with hidden debt also divulges the amount of their recent weight gains.   What I think we're looking at is a relatively small group of people and a few examples as the basis of Suze's evidence for this theory.   Of course I'm working on assumption here but without any specific evidence otherwise to explain Suze's theory this is all I've got to work on.

Ignores various other potential causes of weight gain.   In the show Suze didn't ask about or address any other potential causes of weight gain.   Jen the caller had a 17 month old child.   I would think that its fairly accepted common knowledge that weight gain after childbirth is not uncommon.    So to me it seems that a more simplistic and straight forward explanation for Jen's weight gain would be the recent birth of her child.  But even if that wasn't the cause there are a number of other factors that could potentially cause any given individual to gain excess weight.   Poor diet, eating too much and not exercising come to mind as a fairly straightforward causes of weight gain.   Hereditary factors undoubtedly have an impact as well for many people.  I also understand that some specific medical ailments (e.g. hypothyroid) can also contribute to weight gain.

The numbers are far too specific to apply in any real way as generalized rule.   There is no way that a 5' tall woman and a 6' 6" tall man will gain the same exact amount of weight in reaction to something.   There is no way that a $1000 debt will impact a poor person the same as it will a millionaire.    A frugal person and a spendthrift will have extremely different reactions to a financial issue.   Even if there is a direct link between hidden debt and weight gain you can't possibly make a rule of thumb so specific as Suze tried to.  People and their circumstances are way too varied.

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