A Beef over Obesity Bias

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 18, 2005 | Go to article overview

A Beef over Obesity Bias


Byline: Herman Cain and Dan Gainor, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The holidays are over and millions have resolved to lose the weight we just gained. Now that we're in the new year, the major media will make you think twice about the whole concept of holiday stuffing. How do we know? Our analysis shows this is the media's pattern.

We've analyzed how the major media treated the issue of obesity for the last 1 1/2 years. The result? The major media are likelier to turn the holiday season into open season on the food industry than into a time to eat, drink and be merry.

It's the new battle of the bulge. Anticorporate activists have seized upon America's worries about weight to launch a campaign against companies that produce the food we all eat. They blame U.S. businesses for the "obesity epidemic" and say it can best be cured by a diet of new taxes, more regulations and lawyer-enriching lawsuits. One well-known activist even complained healthier versions of traditional snack foods were bad because they were foods we "shouldn't be eating at all."

These "activists" got their agenda out because the major media have covered the issue poorly.

The Media Research Center's Free Market Project analyzed all news stories about obesity published in the New York Times and USA Today or aired on the three broadcast network evening news shows for 11/2 years. The first analysis was from May 1, 2003, through April 30, 2004. The second covered the next six months and, unfortunately, shows the media haven't changed their tune much.

In the first study, about half of the 205 stories debated the causes of obesity. Of these, a large majority (64 percent) blamed our nation's weight problems on food companies rather than personal behavior. While this has improved in our second study, it's still a problem. The concept of personal responsibility still hasn't taken hold in U.S. newsrooms.

For example, on the March 9, 2004, World News Tonight, ABC reporter Lisa Stark linked the food industry's behavior with poor health: "It's estimated 64 percent of Americans weigh too much. That increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and some form of cancer. Those who help people lose weight say they're not surprised by the new numbers. The food industry spends $34 billion a year to market its products." The notion food industry advertising causes obesity is a key argument of the anticorporate activists.

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