Food for thought

Statistics can be neat and tidy, but misleading.

Imagine this: a TV news bulletin says the economy has just grown by 3%. Growth in the economy is generally measured by expanding GDP – gross domestic product (the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one year); and 3% is healthy. Great! You fist-pump the air and think about buying that yacht.

Hold your horses, your thoughts could be about to bolt in the wrong direction.

Next, a news insert comes on about breast milk. The insert contains interviews with ‘leading nutritionists’. They almost all agree breast milk is superior to infant formula – a manufactured breast milk substitute. In fact, one scientist says more than one-fifth of deaths in newborn babies could be prevented if they were breastfed in the first hour of life.

At this point your foxy whiskers should start connecting dots.

If more mothers decided not to breastfeed, a rapid growth in the production and sales of infant formula could contribute to an increase in GDP. If more mothers breastfed, according to scientists that would mean healthier babies, but would also mean less production and sales of infant formula. In other words, healthy baby-feeding practice may lead to a harmful GDP outcome.

Many economists argue that measuring GDP is an out-of-date way of trying to understand the expansion and contraction of added value within an economy. Breast milk illustrates this point.

So, next time you hear a happy economist quoted in the news, start connecting dots. Think to yourself, ‘I better dig deeper on this whole ‘growing economy’ thing’. Luckily for you, foxes are very good diggers.

[This article originally appeared on the mindofafox Growing Foxes app in the week of 29 January 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. The app serves to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more].

Image: Gluki Organics