ABC Helps Officials Beef About Their
‘World News Tonight’ weighs in on the side
of the Centers for Disease Control about obesity.
By Dan Gainor
June 3, 2005
Â Â Â Â The heavy
debate over the recent lower estimates of deaths caused by obesity
continued in the media following a press conference by the Centers
for Disease Control. ABC’s ‘World News Tonight’ undermined CDC
critics in its June 2, 2005 story. Anchor Elizabeth Vargas opened by
stating the government position as fact: “Being overweight is
extremely bad for your health no matter what the new numbers say.”
Â Â Â Â Both sides of the obesity debate have focused heavily
on a new study about death rates ever since its April 20, 2005,
release. The study was the second adjustment to the numbers.
Initially, the Centers for Disease Control had blamed obesity for
400,000 annual deaths. That was later revised down to 365,000, but
the latest study showed those numbers were still far too high and
that the new figure was 112,000. That number, however, had to be
adjusted to include people who actually saw benefits from a few
extra pounds, and the adjusted total came to about 26,000 deaths.
The CDC even said more people died from being underweight – that
total was 34,000.
Â Â Â Â The CDC has been unhappy with those numbers from the
moment they were released. According to the Associated Press on
April 20, 2005: CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said because of
the uncertainty in calculating the health effects of being
overweight, the CDC is not going to use the brand-new figure of
25,814 in its public awareness campaigns and is not going to scale
back its fight against obesity.”
Â Â Â Â This time around, the CDC called a press conference to
undermine its own study. According to Vargas, “The Centers for
Disease Control called a news conference to sound the alarm on the
danger of being overweight. It might not kill you, but it will
shorten your life span.”
Â Â Â Â Reporter Lisa Stark initially admitted that the agency
simply doesn’t know the facts on obesity deaths. “Today the agency
admitted there is no good scientific way to determine how many
deaths are actually caused by obesity.”
Â Â Â Â However, she did her part to put forth the idea that
the CDC is right that obesity is harmful, even though that disagreed
with the agency’s own study. “The agency today said being slightly
overweight is not healthy and other experts agree,” said Stark. She
followed with comments from Dr. David Katz, of the “Yale School of
Public Health,” treating him like an independent expert.
Â Â Â Â In fact, Katz is anything but independent. According to
the school’s own Web site, Katz works for the CDC. “Katz co-founded
and directs the CDC-funded Yale Prevention Research Center (PRC)
where he oversees diverse studies in disease prevention and health
promotion,” stated the biography on the site.
Â Â Â Â Stark did introduce one food industry supporter, but
undermined him by labeling him as a mere mouthpiece of the industry.
Stark called the Center for Consumer Freedom “a group representing
the restaurant industry” and its president Richard Berman was merely
listed as a “Food Industry spokesman.” Unlike Katz, the label did
not refer to the organization he represents.
Â Â Â Â ABC’s story never once addressed the flaws in the way
the government calculates obesity – the Body Mass Index. That
calculation is a function of a person’s weight and height. The
number has long been questioned because it fails to take muscle into
account. Athletes typically register as overweight or obese using
the BMI – even if they are in excellent shape. Nevertheless, this
same measure is the one the government uses to calculate obesity.
Â Â Â Â The BMI measures were lowered in the late 1990s, in
effect making millions of Americans “obese” or “overweight” over
Â Â Â Â Both the overestimation of obesity deaths and the flaws
in the BMI were prominent in two studies on obesity released by the
Media Research Center’s Free Market Project during 2004. While those
studies highlighted the anti-industry spin prevalent in many
stories, the second study also covered the two new current problems
with obesity science: