Junk Journalism Nation

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So, the new cover story in The Nation is a cui bono piece that notes that food producers give money to politicians, then observes that in discussions of the obesity "epidemic"—and whether it demands new restirctions on advertising PopTarts to kids—politicians like Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) have:

parroted industry talking points when he claimed that children are "obese not because of what they eat at lunchrooms in schools but because, frankly, they sit around on their duffs watching Eminem on MTV and playing video games." And that, of course, is the fault not of food marketers but of parents.

Just one more nefarious industry "ploy," as such claims are later described. But golly if they didn't forget to link to the sidebar to the article where they, you know, get around to showing that this is actually wrong. Because, funnily enough, the empirical evidence the folks I know who study this stuff have looked at seems to suggest, first, that kids have been getting plumper over a period when they've been less exposed to food advertising, and that during this era of plumpification, kids have become more sedentary without increasing caloric intake much.

In other words, at least a first pass at the evidence suggests that maybe, in fact, kids really are getting fatter because they're exercising less, not because they're eating more junk food—never mind watching more ads for the stuff. Maybe that's why the authors have to resort to quoting opinion polls indicating people are favorably disposed to ad restrictions instead of, like, actual evidence.

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  1. Holy cow, I actually agree with Zell Miller on something. And here I thought he was just a character on Saturday Night Live.

  2. Julian Sanchez,

    It could be both of course. Not that either is the “fault” of the food industry.

    I wonder if zig-zag Zell and James Carville still hang around together following Miller’s turn toward reactionary* sentiments?

    * I know characterizing Zell this way will piss some folks off, but Zell Miller did sponsor a proposed amendment that would have banned any recognition by any government entity in the U.S. of same-sex marraige or anything remotely taking on the incidents of marraige and applying it homosexual couples. He also supported this nightmare: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c108:S.2147:

  3. David Rollins,

    Well, you know what they say about broken clocks. 🙂

  4. Wow. Kids parked in front of the cathode ray babysitter get fat. Breaking news. On the plus side, their thumbs are strong as steel after hours of Nintendo.

  5. Well, you know what they say about broken clocks.

    Same thing they’d say about broken Barts if the whole world read Hit & Run.

  6. So, when does Zell Miller officially become R-GA? It’s seems pretty obvious that he wants to. Is it that expensive to change his stationary?

    Miller singles out Eminem as the type of music that makes the kids fat. I don’t know about anyone else, but Eminem’s music makes me wants to get up and dance. If I were listening to someone closer to Miller’s range of preference — say, Pat Boone –, I’d be more inclined to sit still and vegetate.

  7. Eminem’s music makes me want to run far away from the speakers. You’re right, it does promote exercise.

  8. See? It’s all about cardio-vascular.

    Twba: The trick, like Bill McNeill once demonstrated, is to turn up the bass so high that you can’t hear the words.

  9. The reason kids are getting fat is that they’re not allowed to do anything fun anymore. Playground equipment like slides, swings, see-saws, jungle-gyms and merry-go-rounds have been taken away because of safety and liability concerns; there’s a wealthy day-care center right next door to where I work, and the playground equipment consists of a giant plastic turtle on whose back the kids can climb and sit, some kid-sized plastic picnic tables, two plastic slides less than four feet tall, and a tiny sandbox. That’s all. No surprise that the kids choose to go play in the dirt instead. And kids can’t even ride their bikes without wearing about half their body weight in helmets, elbow-pads and body armor. When kids live in a world run by idiot grown-ups who think that a skinned knee or elbow must be avoided at all costs, then of COURSE the kids are going to get chubby. I’m absolutely appalled by the kids who live in my neighborhood–we’re talking about people who are two feet shorter than I am, but probably outweigh me by a good twenty pounds.

    Just a few days ago I read an article (I think in the NY Times) about some horrible woman who was bragging about how she forced the playgrounds in her town to get rid of all the fun toys, even down to the preschool animal-swings. She admits that the remaining toys don’t seem to appeal to kids, but apparently the most important thing is to ensure that a kid makes it to adulthood without ever, ever having to view a break in his skin, or a drop of his own blood.

  10. Jennifer-

    The kids would turn out just fine if mean people like you didn’t insist on having actual standards in the classroom!

    Really, they should go through life without any bad grades, hurt feelings, or bruised knees. Anything less is child abuse!

    But seriously, the way that “kids these days” are raised goes a long way toward explaining why college faculty are increasingly terrified of scum-sucking subhuman vermin…um, I mean, lawyers.

  11. the playground equipment consists of a giant plastic turtle on whose back the kids can climb and sit

    Jennifer,

    Don’t you see? It’s plastic turtles all the way down.

  12. Thoreau-
    Yes, it’s damned lucky that I decided not to have kids, because I’d do all sorts of things like make them learn how to read, and limit the amount o time they could spend watching TV each day. When the weather was nice, I’d even make them go outside and play! And I’d install a swing-set in the backyard, which as we know is no different from telling a kid “Hey, go play with that downed electrical wire. Oooo, look at the pretty blue sparks!”

    By the way, I found a copy of that story I mentioned in my last post. I’ll include the address, of course, but I just wanted to cut and paste a few segments that, when I read them, compelled me to make gear-grinding noises in my throat:

    http://www.timesleader.com/mld/timesleader/living/12354464.htm

    Broward, Fla.?s ?Rules of the Playground? signs, bought from an equipment catalog and displayed at all 137 elementary schools in the district, are just one of several steps taken to cut down on injuries and the lawsuits they inspire.

    ?It?s too tight around the equipment to be running,? said Safety Director Jerry Graziose, the Broward County official who ordered the signs. ?Our job was to try to control it.?

    How about swings or those hand-pulled merry-go-rounds?

    ?Nope. They?ve got moving parts. Moving parts on equipment is the No. 1 cause of injury on the playgrounds.?

    Teeter-totters?

    ?Nope. That?s moving too.?

    Sandboxes?

    ?Well, I have to be careful about animals? turning them into litter boxes.

    Cement crawl tubes?

    ?Vagrants. The longer they are, the higher possibility that a vagrant could stay in them. We have shorter ones now that are made out of plastic or fiberglass.?

    Broward playgrounds aren?t the only ones to avoid equipment that most adults remember. Swings, merry-go-rounds, teeter-totters and other old standards are vanishing from schools and parks around the country, according to the National Program for Playground Safety.

    ?Kids aren?t using them the way they?re supposed to,? said the agency?s director, Donna Thompson, who led a national effort to get rid of animal swings two years ago. ?I?m pleased that a lot of these are disappearing.?

  13. Jennifer, you’re awful chatty this morning — did you spend the weekend hiding out at some Cape or something?

  14. Doug–

    This past weekend, New England was as miserably hot as the Virginia summers I moved up North to escape. So I spent the whole time holed up in my air-conditioned apartment. The most exciting point of my weekend was when my boyfriend and I went out to buy a new blender and an electric food-chopper. (Whcih will eventually be made illegal for safety concerns–sharp blades can be dangerous, don’cha know.)

    Sad thing is, though, I STILL got more exercise than the average kid of today.

  15. Nothing surprising here. The ultimate trump card spooky argument of ‘follow the money’. Man that gets old.

    In other news, labor gives money to Democrats. Whole insidious story at 11.

  16. ?To say ?no running? on the playground seems crazy,? said Bartleman, who agreed to be interviewed on a recent outing at Everglades. ?But your feelings change when you?re in a closed-door meeting with lawyers.?

    Yet another reason to hate lawyers! I completely sympathize with somebody who caves under fear of a lawsuit. But I despise the plaintiffs who bring the idiotic cases, the lawyers who agree to take them (don’t lawyers have discretion in deciding whether to take a civil case?), and the idiotic jurors who find in favor of the plaintiffs.

    But this one takes the cake:
    ?Kids aren?t using them the way they?re supposed to,? said the agency?s director, Donna Thompson, who led a national effort to get rid of animal swings two years ago. ?I?m pleased that a lot of these are disappearing.?

    It’s one thing to cave when the lawyers come after you. It’s quite another thing to actively push to get rid of fun toys, and to be proud when you succeed at that goal.

  17. Thoreau–

    All I know of Donna Thompson is what I read in this article, but she strikes me as the kind of person who simply enjoys imposing her will on others, and makes use of any available laws to justify it.

    If I were in her shoes, and had to get rid of the animal-swings, I’d feel badly about it, and tell the parents that I was really sorry, and it was a shame that the kids couldn’t continue to enjoy them. But I imagine that when SHE told the parents about the missing swings, she had a huge smile on her face.

    I also bet she has a very ugly face–not a naturally ugly face, but the kind of face that BECOMES ugly after decades of mean-spiritedness, nasty little frowns and squinty little pouts.

  18. What’s childhood without minor injury? I mean, seriously. Bike helmet? LAME. Pads for street hockey? DORKY! When I was a kid my neighborhood was just being built (we where the third or fourth family to move in) and we used to throw clods of dirt from the construction sites at each other for fun. See also: climb on partially completed houses, steal lumber for making bike ramps, jump our bikes off/over stuff… How can you try to outlaw this stuff? Don’t parents remember being children?

    Just like all kids who act up in class (usually due to boredom) are ipso facto ADD and “need” stimulants to “pay attention”, all kids must be protected from the other danger of childhood: Fun. Makes me sick. Yet another reason never to have kids.

  19. I mean, seriously. Bike helmet?

    Is it irrational for me to believe that in a few years I’ll start getting a child abuse citation for letting my kids ride without helmets? Unfortunately, it probably isn’t.

  20. Is it irrational for me to believe that in a few years I’ll start getting a child abuse citation for letting my kids ride without helmets?

    Move to Germany and experience it now.

  21. MP-
    You’ll be cited for abuse if you let your kids ride bikes without a helmet, or if your kids are ever seen in public with a skinned knee or elbow. You’ll also be cited for abuse if you let them get fat. Good luck!

    And I agree with Timothy. I think it’s actually psychologically unhealthy for kids to be raised with the belief that an injury as minor as a skinned knee is so god-awful terrible that it must be avoided at all costs. Hell, when I was a kid I’d fall down, skin my knee, possibly cry for as long as fifteen seconds depending on how much it hurt, and then get right back up and resume playing. In the Seventies that made me a regular little kid–today that would make me Rambo.

    Just imagine how pathetic our military will be when THIS generation makes up the majority of the grunts.

  22. Just imagine how pathetic our military will be when THIS generation makes up the majority of the grunts.

    I’ve remember reading about a USMC drill sergeant complaining about the same thing: the kids are too fat, too undisciplined and too wimpy. I believe one quote was along the lines of: “Hell, I don’t think one of them has ever thrown a punch.”

  23. This reminds me of the premise of the Family Guy Movie (a copy fell off the back of the truck…): Stewie has a near-death experience and becomes extremely risk-averse. He meets his future self and realizes he grows up to be a Parade Magazine-reading, 35-year-old virgin.

    Is that what we want our children to be? Parade Magazine-reading, 35-year-old virgins?

  24. Haklyut:

    It could be both of course

    It COULD be both, but the empirical evidence shows that, over the past 20 years, where we’ve seen childhood obesity rates rise, caloric intake for adolescents has stayed relatively constant, while physical activity has declined something on the order of 20%.

    The only detail that is not addressed in those numbers, of course, is the QUALITY of the calories (not all calories are created equal—500 cals via twinkies is not the same as 500 cals via chicken breast and salad). But that would really only adjust the numbers slightly, not enough to even begin overcoming the rise ratio of 20:1. So, while it could be both, the clear winner is obvious.

  25. Randolph: if you’re sitting around reading parade, then you’re not getting physical exercise, so, no.

    Not to mention, if you’re a virgin, then you’re obviously missing out on the excellent cardio workout that a good marathon fuck provides.

    So, wouldn’t a Parade-reading virgin be, um, counter to the healthist agenda?

  26. Randolph–

    That same truck went through my neighborhood, and when I saw the Stewie movie I got the same impression you did. These poor kids, being raised to live an entirely risk-free existence, are apparently in the care of adults who don’t realize that you need to take risks to get any rewards.

    Evan-

    Of COURSE, raising fat, pudgy kids with no stamina whatsoever runs counter to the health-nanny agenda. But the nannies don’t have the ability to think things through. (They must be very easy to beat at chess.)

  27. Is it just me, or was Julian’s original post grammatically flawed? I had a hard time reading through it. I loathe schoolmarm nit picking, but some of those sentences don’t make sense as written.

  28. My niece and nephew live in a typical exurb where they will need to be chauffered everywhere until the age of 16. They live on a cul-de-sac attached to a major highway with maybe 10 other houses. There’s nowhere else to wander, and no sidewalks even if there were. How did we ever decide that this is the best environment for kids? My eighties childhood [minimally-supervised roughhousing all over the neighborhood] seems like something out of the middle ages compared to the way kids are raised today.

  29. But don’t children in America still ride bicycles everywhere? It seems that I remember no other mode of transportation in Suburbia for kids (with the exception of the school bus and an occasional parent-chauffeur).

  30. Solitudinarian–

    Now the kids don’t go anywhere unless their parents drive them. And the sad thing is, I’m being entirely serious when I say that.

  31. believe it or not, this concern and fear of risk is no longer limited to “saving the children” anymore. In the financial industry, there are increasing demands on financial consultants & portfolio managers (from the government, not the customers) to get rid of “risky” financial products like B-shares. At the same time, most people still lack the understanding that if you want growth, you have to have risk. If you want stability, you won’t have much growth.

    It’s amazing that every facet of the natural world points towards risk as a catalyt for growth (both real and metaphorical) yet we as a society are doing everything in our power to eliminate it. I guess this is how a species stagnates.

  32. Randolph–

    I don’t know what a B-share is (I’m assuming something riskier than government bonds and the like), but do you think this risk-averse mentality in the financial realm is related to the risk-free playground mentality, or might it be simply a hangover from all the people who got burned when the dot-com bubble collapsed?

  33. It’s the same mentality – the Sarbanes-Oxley (and to an even greater extent, the PATRIOT act) cemented the idea that civilians aren’t smart enough to deal with their own investments in to law.

    The result of this can be seen in any prospectus for a mutual fund or annuity – the financial companies are scared shitless that they will be sued by the DOJ or Elliot Spitzer, so they produce documents that are about 1,500 pages long to describe a simple mutual fund. The only people these rules help are the lawyers in charge of compliance.

    If it was dot-com hangover, people would be staying out of the stock market. Instead, the government is erecting high barriers just to get in.

  34. But don’t children in America still ride bicycles everywhere?

    Most don’t now, for two reasons:

    1) Kids have gotten too lazy to use their own power to transport themselves.

    2) Parents are so paranoid about largely imaginary sexual predators to let them go anywhere unescorted.

  35. oh, forgot to say: B-shares are stock trades where the fee is charged when the stock is sold rather than when it is purchased. They are good for investors who make short-term investments, but the DOJ figured that the average subject could wrap his head around the fact that he’d be paying later for a service now. B-shares are pretty much no longer offered.

  36. and could should’ve read couldn’t. The air conditioner in my office is broken – i think my brain is boiling.

  37. But don’t children in America still ride bicycles everywhere?

    No, they don’t. It’s not safe, because (a) there are often no sidewalks and (b) the streets are built for maximum “safety” (very wide, smooth turns, etc.) which in practice means maximum speed.

  38. I wonder if zig-zag Zell and James Carville still hang around together following Miller’s turn toward reactionary* sentiments?

    I haven’t seen them together, but I have seen them separately. They are both very thin.

    Yes, I know it’s not a very substantial point. I just thought it was interesting.

  39. I know joe can opine on this better than I can, and I want to emphasize that I am not calling for regulations to deal with this, but a lot of subdivisions seem like an awful place for raising kids. The subdivisions themselves are OK, and fairly safe for biking around in to visit friends. But if kids want to go to a park, or a store, or whatever, they have to venture out onto roads that really aren’t very safe for biking. In those environments I can’t really blame parents for driving the kids everywhere. I biked all around a neighborhood with sidewalks and a few busy streets, but the busy streets were several blocks apart and if you reached one you were probably already more than half-way to the store or park or school or whatever.

    What’s saddest about these subdivisions is that there’s usually a big fence around them. First of all, that fence means that instead of the strip mall being a 5 minute walk away it’s more like a 15 minute walk away, because you have to walk all the way to the subdivision entrance that’s situated as far as possible from the strip mall. Now, 15 minutes isn’t a bad walk, but anything that makes it more time-consuming to get somewhere means you’ll go somewhere less frequently.

    And that fence frequently separates the subdivision from a creek or patch of trees or some other more natural habitat. Those places are always more fun to play in than a neatly mowed lawn. The lawn is good for some games if the parents will let the kids mess up the lawn, but a more natural habitat (rocks and trees and whatnot) is more fun.

    I’m not suggesting that there should be a zoning law to bar the kind of development that I’m condemning. If people want to live there, well, that’s their problem. But if it should turn out that the laws are discouraging more kid-friendly living configurations, well, by all means get rid of those laws. And if it turns out that the laws aren’t the problem, but rather consumer demand, well, I reserve the right to say that the consumers who choose to buy those homes are making a mistake. They have the right to ignore me, of course, but I have the right to criticize.

    And on any other forum I could criticize a private choice without having to make disclaimers. Just remember that even in Libertopia people will say “I can’t believe what a moron so-and-so is! How could anybody live ther?”

  40. 2 Papers from the CATO institute? OOOh good idea, they’re really trustworthy! Don’t they still insist that global warming doesn’t exist or something? I think it’s really great when a Reason trashes another magazine for “junk” journalism, when Reason’s “science” writers works for CEI. Ohhh, the sting of irony!

  41. Hmmm… I think Billiam just pointed out the problem of living in a utilitarian-based rather than inalienable rights-based society.

    We’re at a point where policy is devised by scientific studies of what will produce the greatest good for the greatest amount of people rather than limiting policy to what the government may and may not interfere in. If we keep relying on studies rather than constitutional/enlightenment principles, we’ll end up with some sort of wierd scientocracy. I think that’s what was going on in Brave New World, at least a little bit.

  42. Bottom line, we’ll devolve into a morass of “my study is less biased than your study! You’re study’s stupid!” rather than a public debate of principles. That’s why fundies are trying to get in on the science bandwagon – if they “prove” that fornication, pornography, and dancing are bad for you, then our masters will dutifully respond.

    The only studies that are consistantly dismissed and ignored are those that don’t require that “something must be done.”

  43. I loathe George Bush, but I still think what The Nation did here is pretty funny: did anyone notice that on page one of their article blaming Bush for not doing enough to end obesity in America, in the sidebar is a link to ANOTHER story blaming Bush for not doing enough to end hunger in America?

  44. thoreau,

    But if it should turn out that the laws are discouraging more kid-friendly living configurations, well, by all means get rid of those laws.

    There are definitely laws agains kid-friendly places to live. The streets, for example, aren’t just randomly designed for freeway speeds – the law makes it that way. Same goes for low-density sprawl that makes it damn near impossible to walk anywhere – most localies have this encoded into law.

  45. “localies” = localities

  46. Just imagine how pathetic our military will be when THIS generation makes up the majority of the grunts.

    Note how much of the current military comes from rural regions and the Southeast/Texas now. That will only increase if this trend continues.

    *cue random Yankee sneer*

  47. And on any other forum I could criticize a private choice without having to make disclaimers.

    You ever think the knee-jerk just might be from people whacking at folks’ knees? Frankly, it’s a rare day I see someone make that sort of complaint (absent such a disclaimer) without bringing up the use of political power to “fix” matters, even here.

  48. Also, Thoreau:

    Ethos is the brand of bottled water that donates to third-world water programs.

  49. Miller singles out Eminem as the type of music that makes the kids fat. I don’t know about anyone else, but Eminem’s music makes me wants to get up and dance.

    It makes me want to go to a karaoke place and drink a lot of beer until I’m drunk enough to get up to the mike, so I can amaze the young punks that an old guy knows the lyrics to “Lose Yourself.” But at least I sweat most of it off.

    If I were listening to someone closer to Miller’s range of preference — say, Pat Boone — I’d be more inclined to sit still and vegetate.

    Yup. That stuff’s pretty anodyne.

    Or Enya. In this context — Enya kills!

  50. “Holy cow, I actually agree with Zell Miller on something. And here I thought he was just a character on Saturday Night Live.”

    LOL! Still laughing at this. Good show, DR, good show!

  51. I forgot to add to the above post that I finally agree with Jennifer on something. The world may indeed be round.

  52. Randolph–

    I see. So it’s not that investors don’t WANT to take risks; it’s that the government won’t LET them. Goddammit, why doesn’t Congress just slice through the hypocrisy and amend the Constitution to say “The government shall have the right to prevent you from making a bad decision about your own damned life?”

    It can be right after the amendment which says “The right of the people to be free of offense shall not be infringed.”

  53. Anyone else notice how Reason in no way attempts to debunk the main message of this story? I’m sure that the papers they link to at CATO are as trustworthy as their papers on, oh… Global Warming or Social Security. I’m sure that CATO has America’s best interests in mind, not they’re corporate contributors! Anyone else think it’s funny that Reason is attacking another magazine’s science, when Reason’s science writer works for CEI?

  54. This is an excellent article that places the obesity problem in context.

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=000E5065-2345-128A-9E1583414B7F0000&pageNumber=1&catID=2

  55. “We’re at a point where policy is devised by scientific studies of what will produce the greatest good for the greatest amount of people rather than limiting policy to what the government may and may not interfere in. If we keep relying on studies rather than constitutional/enlightenment principles, we’ll end up with some sort of wierd scientocracy. I think that’s what was going on in Brave New World, at least a little bit.”

    That’s right kids, dealing with a public health epidemic will lead us down the path of toward a fascist state. In fact doing anything that interferes with the activities and principals of the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Forest and Paper Association, American Petroleum Institute, American Plastics Council, ARCO Foundation, BP Amoco, CA Building Industry Association, Chemical Manufacturers Association, Chevron Corporation, Chlorine Chemistry Council, Clorox, Coca-Cola, American and Continental Airlines, Daimler Chrysler Corp, Dow Chemical, Eastman Chemical, Edison Electric Institute, ENRON, Exxon Mobil, FMC Corporation, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Kimberly-Clark, Koch Industries, Koch Materials, Eli Lilly, Microsoft, National Air Transportation Association, National Beer Wholesalers, National Soft Drink Association, Pfizer, Inc, Philip Morris, Procter and Gamble, Shell Oil, Sun America, Union Carbide Corporation, United Airlines, Western States Petroleum, Watson Land Company, Whole Foods Market, Winston and Strawn will of course lead to fascism.

  56. None of those corporations can force you to do anything, Mister reasonmakesmelaugh. Only the government can do that.

    Perhaps you will no longer be laughing when The Party is making you do squat thrusts on the hard ground for your own good.

    (save your roughneck tactics for Sacco and Vanzetti!)

  57. Also, being fat isn’t “a public health epidemic,” no matter how many people get fat. Being fat is a private health matter. “Public health” is communicable diseases and stuff like non-contaminated food & water.

    Unless The Fat is contagious, just like The Gay. Oh my god– I shook a fat person’s hand just this morning?

  58. Eric Alterman must be stuck in traffic coming home from the beach today. His intern obviously has nothing better to do than provoke a flame war.

  59. No, the intern is correct. A bunch of gun-toting corporation people just broke into my house and forced me to eat half a dozen frosted chocolate sour-cream donuts. And they said that if they saw me burning off more than twenty-five calories per hour for the next five days they’d kill me and everybody I love.

    Do you know of anybody who can help me? The police have all been bought off and my phone calls are being monitored.

  60. Perhaps the posters on this board can do their bit towards protecting Mr. reasonmakesmelaugh from this terrible “public health” problem by refraining from feeding the troll . . .

  61. yeah you guys, it’s not like any of these diseases associated with obesity will have to be handled by the public health system.

  62. ?But your feelings change when you?re in a closed-door meeting with lawyers.?

    You are in charge at the closed door meeting, hun. You are the boss. The lawyers are your consultants. They do what you want, ultimately. You can fire them and hire others if you like. Your problem is not your lawyer. It is in your mirror.

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