Slate Magazine, Journalistic Activism, and Childhood Obesity

Punk

There is a type of journalism that discourages the public from thinking about certain things. In a print newspaper, a sensitive piece of news can be buried in the third or fourth section. If an announcement might provoke a lot of dissent, it can be held until the next giant headline-grabbing emergency is distracting everyone’s attention, and slipped in under the radar. There are all kinds of tricks.

Then, there is journalism that throws open the gates and says, “What is your point of view? Bring it on!” Slate, the online magazine, put together a crowdsourcing project to brainstorm the subject of childhood obesity. Readers chose some of the 12 favorite ideas, and a panel of judges chose others.

One of the judges was Dr. Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Soon after the Slate material was published, news came from the Rudd Center, in the form of a report called “Neural Correlates of Food Addiction,” confirming that food addiction actually exists. Despite that, none of the Slate entries were on the subject of addiction or psychological dependence.

There is always a lot of emphasis on education, and that is not a problem in itself, especially considering that the public school system is an ever-present and easily influenced medium for the spreading of information. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is one of the basic political differences that the nation has been dealing with for a long time. The Sarah Palin philosophy, for instance, is that schools have no business butting into personal lives.

Another thing about education is that, past a certain point, it can become futile. The young people who respond to Dr. Pretlow’s Weigh2Rock website have clearly expressed that they were fed up with nutrition information. Fat, sugar, salt, chemicals = bad. Vitamins = good. They know. They got it. What they don’t have are the skills to cope with the life situations that trigger their addictive behavior.

Following up on the childhood obesity theme, Slate then hosted a forum in Cleveland on April 21, 2011. It was free, and it has attracted more than 400 people. Evelyn Theiss, who writes on medical topics for The Plain Dealer, covered this event. She said of childhood obesity,

The problem has become so prevalent that the panel told stories of surgeons operating on 10-year-olds whose obesity has already manifested in fatty liver disease and the need for gallbladder surgery.

The panels were moderated by Slate editor David Plotz and by Dr. Toby Cosgrove, who is CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, which co-sponsored the conference. Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. David Katz, and Melody Barnes of the “Let’s Move” program were speakers. Also, so was Mick Cornett, mayor of Oklahoma City, who has been an anti-obesity activist for some time. Theiss says,

On New Year’s Eve in 2007, he announced that his town, which topped a list of ‘fattest towns in America,’ was going on a diet. Immediately. Since then, 40,000 or so people have registered to join Cornett in that city-wide effort and have lost a total of 750,000 pounds.

Theiss points out two unusual things. After Cornett made his announcement, research showed that his city had “the highest penetration of fast food restaurants in the country.” And the mayor says that Oklahoma City handles its obesity problems with volunteer work and foundation funding, not government money.

Lee Jordan of Channel 5 News also reported on the event. Her attention was particularly caught by this:

Dr. Cosgrove spoke of the realization some years ago that doctors were in the ‘sick care’ business, not ‘health care.’

On the one hand, Slate can only be congratulated for taking such an active part and promoting discussion on the important matter of childhood obesity. On the other hand, one major idea seems to be missing from what was gathered by the net cast by Slate.

Strangely, there seems to have been no mention here, either, of the part played in the childhood obesity epidemic by dependency on food as an addictive substance and on eating as a process addiction. There seems to have been no mention of psychological dependency. This is too bad, because food addiction needs to be recognized as a reality so that more treatment programs can be put in place.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “No one solution to stopping childhood obesity,” Cleveland.com, 04/21/11
Source: “Soaring rates of childhood obesity in focus as doctors, scientists, policymakers meet in,” NewsNet5.com, 04/21/11
Image by Neeta Lind, used under its Creative Commons license.

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