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Naked Security Live – How to calculate important things using a computer

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Last week, a UK journalist reported an incident that he subtitled with the words, “Hilarious mix-up may have highlighted a potential issue with the vaccine roll-out.

As you probably know, medical mix-ups have a habit of ending badly, especially when they involve automated calculations that determine drug doses.

In this case, happily, things ended in hearty laughter, but the story nevertheless has a lot to teach us about how we collect, store and process data:

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That whole fiasco reminded me of the marvelous scene in “This is Spinal Tap” where the band mistakenly ended up with an 18-inch tall replica of Stonehenge instead of an 18-foot tall one.



I think BMI is used for making an initial assessment of a person’s health. It is definitely not perfect; a muscular person can have a high BMI and a thin, out of shape person can have a healthy BMI. Generally however it gives the average person an idea if they are overweight. BMI is often used in conjunction with waist measurement to give a better determination of health and weight.


In this case, I think that the algorithm is that if your BMI is over 40 (or, perhaps more precisely, 40 or over) you are considered “severely obese”, and that is one of various triggers used to offer early vsccination.

AFAIK, one criticism of BMI is that the square of your height underestimates your volume, and the underestimation gets worse as you get taller. Therefore taller people have BMIs that “advise” them to lose weight when they don’t need to. Worse, of course, is that if you are tall and your BMI is at the *low* end of the NHS’s “healthy weight” range, you may nevertheless be unheathily underweight.

Here, of course, the problem was rather more extreme than “severe obesity”…


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