If you’re like millions of other people, you’re now on day three of your New Year’s Resolution to eat better and drop a few pounds.
That means that you’re probably replacing beef with fish, eating more fruits and vegetables, and walking to places you used to drive.
But there’s an easier way to lose weight: use statistics properly.
According to National Public Radio, a fascinating study in Baltimore proves something I’ve written about before: statistics are useless unless you place them within a broader context. Here’s what NPR reported:
“What if you knew that it would take 50 minutes of jogging to burn off one soda?
When researchers taped signs saying just that on the drink coolers in four inner-city neighborhood stores, sales of sugary beverages to teenagers dropped by 50 percent. That tactic was more effective than a sign saying that the drinks had 250 calories each, or a sign saying that a soft drink accounts for 11 percent of recommended daily calories.”
Kudos to researcher Sara Bleich at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for using statistics the right way. It’s no exaggeration to say that statistics, when used properly, can lead to long-lasting behavior change, improve human health, and save lives.
Dr. Bleich’s work might sound obvious to you – but you’d be stunned how few companies and organizations present their data the way she did. Last month, for example, I worked with an organization that boasted they had recycled four million pounds of nitrogen. Do you have any clue what that means? I sure didn’t.
So this year, make a New Year’s Resolution to stop binging on numbers. Here are three examples of how to use statistics the right way:
- 1. DISTANCE: Instead of saying Washingtonians use and discard two million plastic bags each day, say “If we laid the number of plastic bags Washingtonians throw away each day side-by-side, they would stretch from New York to Los Angeles – and back. Twice.”
- 2 MAKE THE NUMBERS PERSONAL: Instead of saying a tax cut would save taxpayers $200 billion this year, say the average family of four would receive $2,600 in tax relief. Dividing numbers into the smallest sum – per person or per family – usually has more impact than an overall number.
- 3. VOLUME: Instead of saying your manufacturing plant recycles 10 million gallons of water each year, say that it recycles enough water each year to fill 150 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
If you’ve used numbers in a creative way, please share your example(s) in the comments section below.
Can you guess who committed the worst media disaster of 2011? Here are the ten worst media disasters of 2011!