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Upcoming Primetime Monday Special On Obesity Is Old News

Having already issued such gems as the following, we have to wonder why ABC is risking its glass house Monday night, December 8, palavering about how the obesity epidemic in the United States is the fault of the federal government and the food industry:

ultimately food companies say it's really up to parents to read nutritional labels and decide what is best for their children. But parents are out-numbered and out-financed by marketers. Really? According to the US Census Bureau, there were at least 100 million parents as of 2000, so were just guessing theyre not outnumbered by the marketers. As for their being out-financed we wonder if even ABC understands what that means.

Parents are also advised to think about their family's eating habits and see where some choices that eliminate unhealthy foods like soda can be made. Drinking one additional can of a sugary soda, for instance, raises the odds of a child's becoming obese by 1.6 times, according to a 2001 study from Children's Hospital Boston and the Harvard School of Public Health. Wow; which one!?

Another study found that children who watch television during meals eat 5 percent more junk food than those who don't. So, turn off that TV!

Food companies spend $13 billion a year marketing to children in the United States. Parents should help their children understand marketing techniques and consider muting the television during ads.

We wonder if Peter Jennings will join those indicting money-grubbing television executives. After all, ABCs parent, Disney, has been identified by obesity epidemic screamers for its promotional ties to McDonalds. And, without the megaphone provided by the likes of ABC and its sister networks, parents would not have to worry about the marketers of those allegedly unhealthy foods, or muting the television. Yet, were given to understand by ABC that Peter Jennings is going to reveal how government policies and food industry practices are helping to make Americans fat.

All we can say is never mind Pete. Weve heard it all before. We bet we can predict wholl be pontificating courtesy of ABC:

Almost certainly we will hear from Marion Nestle: The abundance of food in the United States enough calories to meet the needs of every man, woman, and child twice over has a downside. Our overefficient food industry must do everything possible to persuade people to eat more more food, more often, and in larger portions no matter what it does to waistlines or well-being. There you have it; the food industry is just too good for our own good.

Surely well be treated to some words of wisdom from Eric Schlosser, himself an author of an anti food industry tome entitled Fast Food Nation, who has this to say about the food industry and his colleague Nestle: Food politics underlie all politics in the United States. There is no industry more important to Americans, more fundamentally linked to our well-being and the future well-being of our children. Nestle reveals how corporate control of the nation's food system limits our choices and threatens our health." Well then; why not simply nationalize the food industry so we can enjoy the health benefits of Soviet style rationing?

And Michael Pollan in the New York Times Magazine Section of October 12, already covered Jennings linkage of agricultural subsidies and obesity: But as we're beginning to recognize, our cheap-food farm policy comes at a high price: first there's the $19 billion a year the government pays to keep the whole system afloat; then there's the economic misery that the dumping of cheap American grain inflicts on farmers in the developing world; and finally there's the obesity epidemic at home -- which most researchers date to the mid-70's, just when we switched to a farm policy consecrated to the overproduction of grain. Since that time, farmers in the United States have managed to produce 500 additional calories per person every day; each of us is, heroically, managing to pack away about 200 of those extra calories per day. Presumably the other 300 -- most of them in the form of surplus corn -- get dumped on overseas markets or turned into ethanol." And there you have the official far left position on the evils of industrial agriculture courtesy of Pollan and most researchers who, of course, are perfectly anonymous and most likely nonexistent.

Nowadays, Pollan says, corn (along with most other agricultural commodities) is again abundant and cheap, and once again the easiest thing to do with the surplus is to turn it into more compact and portable value-added commodities: corn sweeteners, cornfed meat and chicken and highly processed foods of every description. The Alcoholic Republic has given way to the Republic of Fat, but in both cases, before the clever marketing, before the change in lifestyle, stands a veritable mountain of cheap grain. Until we somehow deal with this surfeit of calories coming off the farm, it is unlikely that even the most well-intentioned food companies or public-health campaigns will have much success changing the way we eat. We wonder just how Jennings can be any more creatively biased than that. Again, why not just ban corn?

Perhaps Jennings can get in on the terrorists made me fat theory. In a press release the following was revealed: A new survey commissioned by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) shows that about 20 percent of Americans have made unhealthy changes in the way they eat in the wake of the events of September 11th. The survey, conducted exactly two months after the terror attacks on New York and Washington, sheds light on anecdotal reports about how those events have affected America. Yes indeed it does: Almost 20 percent of those surveyed said they had found themselves eating more comfort foods like mashed potatoes and gravy, fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. About 13 percent said they had been eating more rich, hearty foods like steak, stews and lasagna. Sugar cravings are also on the rise, with 19 percent saying they have been eating more sweet, sugary foods like desserts and ice cream. Lets see, exactly two months after September 11 would be just beforeThanksgiving!

And, honestly, as for blaming aggressive marketing, Jennings might just be caught out in plagiarism; after all, Morley Safer and CBS 60 Minutes already did that story:

Safer indicted psychologists who help market fast food to kids; criticized soft drink companies and Taco Bell for peddling products in public schools; and summed up by adding that kids and parents are: Inundated also with a host of inducements that have nothing to do with the food itself. You [viewers] may not know it, but McDonald's and Burger King have become the biggest purveyors of toys in the world. The fast-food industry spends $3 billion a year just on television, hyping their food and their stuff. A lot of the inducements are tied to movies (Disney!) or current fads, a sure-fire way of getting kids to get parents to walk them through those Golden Arches. Will Jennings tell his viewers just how much of that $3 billion goes to ABC?

About all, we guess, thats left to make Jennings report unique is his dismissal of the truth, namely, that The simple answer is to just eat less and exercise more. ABC is having none of that self control nonsense when they can advertise that Jennings will raise a surprising question: Just as children are protected from cigarette advertising, should children be protected from advertising for unhealthy foods?

Sorry; thats already been done, too, as The (London) Guardian, the BBC and a host of other British news media reported in November: A Labour MP who has attacked the ruthless and cynical targeting of children by the food industry is seeking to outlaw advertisements for confectionery, cereals and fast foods aimed at children. In fact the ban movement is pretty thoroughly entrenched throughout Europe and other places there are no troubling niceties like the U.S. Constitution to protect free speech.

The idea that Americans have gotten fat without really trying thanks to an evil conspiracy between the federal government, big agriculture and the food industry might play better on ABCs version of Showtime. Uh, that would be The Disney Channel, where, ironically, kids surfing to the site the week before the Primetime Special were asked to take a survey as to whether their favorite leftover concoction would be a cranberry smoothie, a stuffing cone, a turkey sandwich or a pumpkin pie patty. The winner is: turkey sandwich, with 55% of the vote. And, honest to gosh, clicking on a promotional contest banner leads to an advertisement pitching Blue Bunny Ice Cream treats featuring various images of Disney characters!