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Friday, February 03, 2006

Updated 01/25/06

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Media Continue to Pound on Obesity Coverage
Fast food restaurants are stalking children; Southerners are getting fatter; and the misleading Body Mass Index is back in the news after a football player’s death.

By Amy Menefee
August 25, 2005

     Obesity hasn’t left the media’s plate. The release of two new studies continued the push for more government regulation and hyped both adult and child obesity statistics. Meanwhile, the death of NFL player Thomas Herrion caused more uproar about the Body Mass Index, a controversial measure of obesity that categorizes many athletes past what the government considers an acceptable weight.

The Mc‘minefield’

  • Under the headline “Students walk a minefield,” USA Today’s Nanci Hellmich reported on August 24 that fast-food restaurants locating near schools was a “problem.” She was covering a study from September’s American Journal of Public Health and quoted a Yale University “obesity expert” who advocated additional zoning laws to control restaurant locations. The story went on about the calorie-ridden evils of kids eating fast food. She gave two paragraphs to Center for Consumer Freedom’s Dan Mindus, the free-market voice on the subject, whom she labeled as “backed by the restaurant and food industry.” However, Hellmich failed to point out two important points. First, restaurants in a free market locate where they believe the customers are. Secondly, she did not even raise the notion of parental involvement when it came to kids’ eating habits.
  • NBC’s August 24 “Today” also covered the study, with Matt Lauer declaring the findings “will concern every parent.” He said according to the study, fast food restaurants are “contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic.” Carl Quintanilla’s report followed, interviewing no one connected with the restaurant industry or free-market ideas.

State of obesity

  • USA Today’s Hellmich addressed a questionable study from the Trust for America’s Health on August 24. The study said Americans are getting fatter and ranked the states by percentage of obese adults. But as Hellmich reported, even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an obesity epidemic crusader, took issue with the statistics used in the study. One CDC researcher said it was “not a valid statistical comparison.” The CDC’s Michael Link said the accuracy of the percentages was questionable because the survey was self-reported, and that “many states are almost identical in their obesity rates, so ranking them is essentially worthless from a statistical perspective.”
  • Television reporters, however, embraced the state rankings study. On CNN’s August 24 “American Morning,” host Soledad O’Brien was upset by the state obesity study. “They’re going to have to sit down and figure out how they’re going to turn those numbers around,” she said, not indicating who “they” were. Anchor Carol Costello noted that Colorado was the slimmest state in the study and said maybe that was because “outdoor activity is really, like, in.” “Maybe that’s the answer,” Costello said.
  • Over on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Kate Snow and Charles Gibson wondered if “Southern cooking” was the culprit when they found several Southern states in the “fattest” category.

NFL: critical mass?

  • The Washington Post devoted more than 2,000 words to the question of professional football players’ obesity in the August 25 sports section. Reporters Mark Maske and Leonard Shapiro wondered whether NFL players have higher risks of disease because of their size. They cited a study of NFL players that relied on the Body Mass Index, which uses height and weight to calculate obesity. Maske and Shapiro pointed out that the BMI doesn’t account for muscle mass, which is heavy and separates pro athletes from the rest of the population. They didn’t note, however, that the government’s measurements tightened the belt on the BMI in 1998, which caused a far greater percentage of Americans to appear “overweight.”


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