Obesity Battle Pops Up Again

Obesity Battle Pops Up Again
Media rely on food industry critics to explain beverage industry plan to limit soft drinks in schools.

By Dan Gainor
August 18, 2005

     The beverage industry cant catch a break from the media. Soda manufacturers, long targets for blame about obesity in children, even received negative press when they moved to pull sodas from many schools. Rather than focusing on support for the move, media outlets resorted to industry critics presented as unbiased observers to assess the situation.

     The recent action by the American Beverage Association voluntarily set restrictions on sodas in schools. That didnt stop Sandra Hughes from CBS Evening News predicting stronger measures will be needed to combat childhood obesity. She talked about how children love soda, And changing that is going to take a lot more than a voluntary ban on bubbly drinks, said Hughes on the Aug. 17 broadcast.

     The ABAs move brought out some of the usual problematic reporting on the issue of obesity:

    The free market: Ironically, The Washington Post had a story on its Aug. 18 front page about declining interest in restaurant health food. According to reporter Margaret Webb Pressler, Like many restaurant chains in the past two years, Ruby Tuesday has discovered that while customers say they want more nutritious choices, they rarely order them.
      The free market II: CBSs Hughes ignored free-market dynamics, complaining that 50 years ago the average Coke was about six ounces; today, it's 20. And everywhere they look, kids get the message that drinking sugary, caffeinated drinks is cool. No surprise that consumption of soda has gone from 22 gallons per year in 1970 to 52 gallons today. The beverage industry has simply responded to consumer desires for larger sodas.
      Basic math: ABCs Charles Gibson introduced the story with this comment: One Harvard nutritionist estimates a child eliminating one soda a day can lose 14 pounds in a year. He didnt need a Harvard nutritionist to figure out what any grade schooler could manage. He needed a basic math class or a calculator. According to MedicineNet.com, an online health care media publishing company, a pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. And 14.6 pounds equals 51,100 or 140 calories a day, roughly equal to a large, non-diet soda.
      Advanced math: NBCs Aug. 18 Today brought in Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Medical Center to talk about nutrition. Heller complained that the new guidelines allowed soda in schools at all and then used an interesting statistic to support her argument. Heller said but studies are showing that for every 12 ounce can of soda or sugary drink, it increased the risk of being overweight for children, 60 percent. Heller didnt explain that her statistics would mean anyone who had more than a couple sodas would be statistically almost 100 percent likely to be obese under her math.
      Left-wing activists unlabeled: The media went to the old reliable left-wing, anti-industry activists from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. CSPI is a group so radical that they criticize anything short of a vegan diet. Nevertheless, ABC, the Associated Press and The Washington Post all quoted CSPIs Margo Wootan without making her organizations bias clear. AP didnt label CSPI in any way; ABC called it a nutrition advocacy group and the Post called it an advocacy group that promotes nutrition.
      Now CSPI wants more than voluntary guidelines: According to CBSs Sandra Hughes, Under these guidelines the beverage selections available to elementary school students will be limited to bottled water and 100% fruit juices, that's all. But the Post made it clear that CSPI wont like that. According to Pressler, Wootan said that in addition to soft drinks, there should be restrictions on sales of sugary fruit drinks or sport drinks, which are just as bad as soda pop nutritionally. (emphasis added)
      Lets control everything: Hellers Today appearance included a call to limit childrens access to regular sodas, diet sodas as well as restricting juice to only the purest kind that is pasteurized and delivered in limited amounts of 8 to 10 ounces for teens and 4 to 6 ounces for younger folks. We want that 100% juice, but limit the quantity, she explained.
      Dont make your own choices: APs Rachel La Corte quoted Wootan criticizing the ABA plan and calling for more restrictions. Wootan followed up, complaining that teens have enough money to make their own decisions: In some ways high school students have additional vulnerabilities, they have more money in their pockets to put in a machine to buy junk food and soda, Wootan said.