ABC Helps Officials Beef About Their Own Statistics

ABC Helps Officials Beef About Their Own Statistics
World News Tonight weighs in on the side of the Centers for Disease Control about obesity.

By Dan Gainor
June 3, 2005

     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. ABCs 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.

     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.

     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.

     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.

     Reporter Lisa Stark initially admitted that the agency simply doesnt 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.

     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 agencys 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.

     In fact, Katz is anything but independent. According to the schools 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.

     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.

     ABCs story never once addressed the flaws in the way the government calculates obesity the Body Mass Index. That calculation is a function of a persons 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.

     The BMI measures were lowered in the late 1990s, in effect making millions of Americans obese or overweight over night.

     Both the overestimation of obesity deaths and the flaws in the BMI were prominent in two studies on obesity released by the Media Research Centers Business & Media Institute 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: