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Category: obesity

On Tuesday, March 18th, the National Press Foundation is sponsoring a webinar entitled "Tips for High-Fidelity Science Reporting."

"Any journalist who wants...

On Tuesday, March 18th, the National Press Foundation is sponsoring a webinar entitled "Tips for High-Fidelity Science Reporting."

"Any journalist who wants to improve her or his work on scientific topics will benefit from this webinar. It will highlight common challenges in communicating science and offer specific tips to enhance the fidelity and richness of scientific reporting," says the announcement.

Do not sign up for this. Better yet, send the National Press Foundation an email and tell them to cancel it.

The webinar is not intended to boost science journalism. It's intended to boost the fortunes of The Coca-Cola Company, which needs little help from us.

I'll give the press foundation a score of 50% on transparency. The announcement for the webinar says, prominently, "This program...

Is sugar toxic? To lose weight, do we reduce the carbs in our diet, or the fat? Why do many people find it easy to lose weight, but nearly impossible to keep it off?

These are the some of the nutrition-related questions that the journalist Gary Taubes has addressed more assiduously than...

Is sugar toxic? To lose weight, do we reduce the carbs in our diet, or the fat? Why do many people find it easy to lose weight, but nearly impossible to keep it off?

These are the some of the nutrition-related questions that the journalist Gary Taubes has addressed more assiduously than probably any other science reporter in the country in recent years. On Sunday, in a piece in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times, he gives us the answers to these and similar questions. But not the answers we might like.

The answer to many of these questions, Taubes writes, is: We don't know. That's despite what he says are more than 600,000 articles on obesity or diabetes (a frequent consequence of obesity). Taubes:

Because...

Correction/Apology: As the research being covered in these stories is important and serious, I regret that I was too flippant with my original headline, which indirectly may have implied that the hype was the fault of the researchers.

Someone sent me an interesting link to a story from the website...

Correction/Apology: As the research being covered in these stories is important and serious, I regret that I was too flippant with my original headline, which indirectly may have implied that the hype was the fault of the researchers.

Someone sent me an interesting link to a story from the website for the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles: City of Hope Researchers May have Found Key to Cure Cancer and End Obesity. It sounds like a joke but readers took it seriously, as was clear from the comments:

“This article should be front page CNN, FOX, MSNBC – not the….(reference to Zimmerman case)” and “Truly an amazing discovery. It should be on every news front page and trials started immediately.”

As you’ve probably guessed by now, the work is all in mice. If CNN, FOX,...

Can The Atlantic and David H. Freedman really be serious when they publish a story under the headline "How junk food can end obesity"?

Of course...

Can The Atlantic and David H. Freedman really be serious when they publish a story under the headline "How junk food can end obesity"?

Of course not. The headline is a friendly little deception to get our attention. The problem for us is to tease out the story they are actually telling, because they have signaled that they are not going to be straight with us.

Freedman, as you might recall, was the author of a piece in the January/February issue of the Columbia Journalism Review that bemoaned the state of medical reporting. "Personal-health journalists have fallen into a trap," producing stories that "grossly mislead the public, often in ways that can lead to poor health decisions with...

Can being a little bit overweight possibly be better for your health than maintaining "normal" weight?

Many doctors and obesity researchers would say no, but one persistent researcher has done a series of studies suggesting the opposite is true: A little extra weight might reduce the chance of...

Can being a little bit overweight possibly be better for your health than maintaining "normal" weight?

Many doctors and obesity researchers would say no, but one persistent researcher has done a series of studies suggesting the opposite is true: A little extra weight might reduce the chance of dying.

Virginia Hughes tackles this complicated issue in a piece in Nature, where she writes that the epidemiology is complex, and the cofounding factors are difficult to eliminate. And the message to the public coming out of all of this is perhaps most complicated of all.

The researcher challenging the orthodoxy is Katherine Flegal of the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the CDC. Her latest study, published in January, found that "people deemed 'overweight' by international standards were 6% less likely to die than were those of...

Laura Beil at Science News begins her helpful survey of fructose research with an interesting historical footnote.  She reports that two chemists found an enzyme that could turn...

Laura Beil at Science News begins her helpful survey of fructose research with an interesting historical footnote.  She reports that two chemists found an enzyme that could turn glucose from cornstarch into fructose, which is sweeter. What's interesting is that the discovery was published in Science in 1957, Beil reports, and largely ignored. It was not until the 1970s that Japanese researchers learned how to use the finding to produce fructose on an industrial scale. And it was not until 2004, she writes, that consumers began to be concerned.

Beil does a nice job of looking over the research on whether fructose might be, as critics, claim, particularly harmful to health--worse than sugar, or sucrose, produced from sugar cane. As I read the story, it seems to say that there is evidence of harm from fructose, because of how it affects the...

The New York Times magazine does not have a good record lately with regard to medical stories. From its misguided profile of the man who falsely linked autism to vaccines, to its goofy claim that...

The New York Times magazine does not have a good record lately with regard to medical stories. From its misguided profile of the man who falsely linked autism to vaccines, to its goofy claim that jellyfish might hold the key to immortality, and a number of others, the Times magazine has appeared misinformed or naive. I went easy on a Times magazine story earlier this month about a boy with severe arthritis who appeared to improve on an alternative therapy, but Michelle M. Francl sharply criticized it in ...

The article in the New England Journal of Medicine caught my eye immediately, even before I'd read any of the coverage. "Myths, Presumptions, and Facts about Obesity," was what it said, and I quickly clipped it and...

The article in the New England Journal of Medicine caught my eye immediately, even before I'd read any of the coverage. "Myths, Presumptions, and Facts about Obesity," was what it said, and I quickly clipped it and saved it. With all the recent controversy among science journalists over what does or what doesn't work regarding weight loss, this seemed like the answer to a prayer--a summary of the evidence on key points, and published in the reputable New England Journal.

Marilynn Marchione at The AP wrote it up this way:

Fact or fiction? Sex burns a...

On Jan. 8, I dissected a long article in the Columbia Journalism Review by David H. Freedman which argued, essentially, that accurate and timely coverage of medical news was...

On Jan. 8, I dissected a long article in the Columbia Journalism Review by David H. Freedman which argued, essentially, that accurate and timely coverage of medical news was impossible. Published medical findings are more often wrong than right, he argues, and so a good reporter who conveys those findings accurately is spreading the wrong findings. Better to chat with friends (as we will see below) than to rely on studies.

CJR, in a very unusual move, has now asked a science writer to write a rebuttal to Freedman's piece. (Kudos to the editors for continuing this important conversation.) The new piece, by Gary Taubes, who has done extensive reporting on obesity (and who holds controversial views on the subject), consists of a very smart analysis of the...

In the pages of the Columbia Journalism Review, the medical and health-policy writer Trudy Lieberman is tossing a laurel to the legacy media--remember the legacy media?--for some nice reporting on childhood obesity.

The medium in question is a kids' magazine called...

In the pages of the Columbia Journalism Review, the medical and health-policy writer Trudy Lieberman is tossing a laurel to the legacy media--remember the legacy media?--for some nice reporting on childhood obesity.

The medium in question is a kids' magazine called ChopChop, which aims to "get kids in the kitchen." Here is Lieberman:

ChopChop is beautiful, engaging, empowers kids to cook and eat healthy foods, offers recipes even adult foodies will love, and aims to help reduce childhood obesity—the coming scourge of the health care system. For doing all this, ChopChop deserves a CJR laurel.

Whether or not one would call this journalism is an arguable point, but Lieberman is correct to observe that the magazine is sending a message to children and families, which does make it journalism of a sort. The magazine's...

In a 4,000-word cover story in the Jan./Feb. 2013 issue of the Columbia Journalism ReviewDavid H. Freedman, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, offers us a...

In a 4,000-word cover story in the Jan./Feb. 2013 issue of the Columbia Journalism ReviewDavid H. Freedman, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, offers us a comprehensive critique of what he calls "personal-health journalism"--what most of us would call medical writing. "Personal-health journalists have fallen into a trap," he writes, producing stories that "grossly mislead the public, often in ways that can lead to poor health decisions with catastrophic consequences."

The problem is not "the sloppiness of poorly trained science writers looking for sensational headlines," he writes. "Many of these articles were written by celebrated health-science journalists and published in respected magazines and newspapers; their arguments were backed up with what appears to be solid,...

Just in time for New Year’s resolution season, The Journal of the American Medical Association comes out with a study casting doubt on the medical dogma that even a small bit of “extra” weight will kill you.   

The study in question is an analysis that used some 100 previous...

Just in time for New Year’s resolution season, The Journal of the American Medical Association comes out with a study casting doubt on the medical dogma that even a small bit of “extra” weight will kill you.   

The study in question is an analysis that used some 100 previous studies on death and body mass index – an index based on weight and height. CDC researcher Katherine Flegal concluded that people who fell into the World Health Organization’s “overweight” category were 6% less likely to die than people in the “normal” range. Obese people were more likely to die.

The study deserved attention. It addresses a major heath issue, since more than 30 percent of Americans qualify for the so-called overweight category – the middle range between what the medical community deems healthy and obese. Flegal was widely quoted saying the take-home message should be that the relationship between weight and...

The Mother Jones story, Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies, doesn’t seem to be aimed at helping you lose weight or deciding what to feed your kids. It’s more about the way science rides on undercurrents of...

The Mother Jones story, Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies, doesn’t seem to be aimed at helping you lose weight or deciding what to feed your kids. It’s more about the way science rides on undercurrents of economics, business and special interests.

One of the authors, Gary Taubes, was the subject of two 2012 Tracker posts. The most recent describes a new research institute he’s starting to support investigation into diet, obesity and disease. The other discusses a controversial New York Times Magazine story he wrote about the deleterious effects of sugar. The web version ran with a headline questioning whether sugar is “toxic”.

That is a strong word, which evokes the death-on-...

Gary Taubes is the author of two of the most controversial and potentially explosive articles that The New York Times Magazine has published in the past decade....

Gary Taubes is the author of two of the most controversial and potentially explosive articles that The New York Times Magazine has published in the past decade. One appeared in 2002 under the headline, "What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?" The other was published in April, 2011, with the cover language "Sweet and Vicious: The case against sugar."

The first challenged the notion that low-fat diets are the way to lose weight. He quoted researchers who said that "low-fat weight-loss diets have proved in clinical trials and real life to be dismal failures, and that on top of it all, the percentage of fat in the American diet has been decreasing for two decades. Our cholesterol levels...

An investigation by Duff Wilson and Adam Kerlin of Reuters has found that the...

An investigation by Duff Wilson and Adam Kerlin of Reuters has found that the Pan American Health Organization, the regional office of the World Health Organization for the Americas, "is relying on the food and beverage industry for advice on how to fight obesity," and "for the first time in its 110-year history, it has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in money from the industry."

That violates World Health Organization policy, the reporters write. A senior "adviser for partnerships" at the Pan American Health Organization says that with budget cuts, the organization needed these partnerships with industry if it...