Investigating Extreme Weight Management Behaviours Using Data Analytics

Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training Practice-Led Project

Shalaka Kurup, James Goulding, Anya Skatova

This paper aims to understand whether extreme weight loss trends could be investigated across the general population using data analytics - the organisation and analysis of huge sets of personal data. The idea of laxative abuse was looked at, due to increased media interest over the past few years. This method involves the use of laxatives in order to purge the system of any food consumed, leading to the false belief that it results in weight loss. The study aimed to understand whether the sales information of laxatives could help locate areas in the country that tend to resort to the use of such methods. To assess this, the sales information for laxatives, as well as weight management products, was collected from a database of the products sold by Boots, along with the subjective wellbeing scores for the country. Subjective wellbeing is a measure used to understand an individual’s quality of life, through their own ratings of how satisfied they are with their life. This is normally used by the Office for National Statistics to better understand wellbeing across the country, and was the method of assessment of welfare for this study.

The final analysis suggested that there were no links between most of the factors used to assess subjective wellbeing and the purchase of laxatives and weight management products, apart from a weak link between the sales of laxatives and ratings of life worth. Upon discussion, it was suggested that a combination of measures – both subjective wellbeing and objective assessments of health – could be more useful for this form of research. The paper concludes by providing ideas for future research in this area, such as investigating demographic information, and how this could influence the purchase of weight management products, and the use of extreme methods of weight loss.