SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – December 2003

A weighty worry. Our obsession with childhood obesity is misguided.
Once upon a time, little girls and boys tended to have "puppy fat". Now they suffer from nascent child obesity instead. Paranoid parents look at chubby five-year olds and worry that they might be storing up serious health problems for the future … We have been fed a glut of alarmist headlines including "Six-year-olds facing obese future" while no less an authority than Sir John Krebs, chairman of the official Food Standards Agency, has alerted the nation to the childhood obesity "timebomb", which means that our children will have shorter lives than us … A less black picture is painted by the Oxford-based Social Issues Research Centre. The nation’s average weight has been rising for the past 50 years but so, too, has our life expectancy (although some would counter that illnesses associated with obesity, such as type two diabetes, have also increased) … "Everybody is jumping on the bandwagon, but we need to be careful," says Jeya Henry, Professor of Human Nutrition at Oxford Brookes University. "Focusing on obesity in young children may be counterproductive. Childhood should be a time to enjoy and experiment with food." Mick Hume in the Times.

Experts slam TV drama on MMR. Child-health experts yesterday criticised a TV drama about the controversial measles, mumps and rubella vaccine as "reckless and entirely unbalanced". Hear the Silence, broadcast on Five last night, told the story of a woman whose child has autism, which she believes to be linked to the triple jab. But an open letter signed by 11 leaders in child-health issues accuses the docu-drama of increasing the anxiety of parents whose children were due to be given the jab. Research carried out around the world has failed to prove a link between MMR and autism and bowel disease since suspicions were first raised by Dr Andrew Wakefield when he worked at London’s Royal Free Medical School in the 1990s. Scotsman.

Communicating risk – Journalists take note. My concern is that the public invariably gets its medical information from the media first, and that journalists who scan the medical press often clearly do not understand the statistics that they are quoting. Particularly with the results of drug trials, the relative risk reduction is quoted (as it is the figure which looks the most impressive) without any reference to natural frequency or absolute risk. Relative risk has very little meaning unless it is framed by the natural frequency of the event considered. BMJ.

The real expert at exploiting the media. "George Monbiot claims that Sense About Science, the Institute of Ideas and other organisations that happen not to share his personal agenda constitute a 'bizarre and cultish network', which seeks to 'dominate scientific and environmental broadcasting' (Invasion of the entryists, December 9). This seemingly conspiratorial cabal must have been reading Monbiot's pamphlet, An Activists' Guide to Exploiting the Media. To get journalists hooked, he suggests, 'create an atmosphere of secrecy, excitement and intrigue… All journalists love to imagine they're in the Famous Five.' Columnists too, it seems." Peter Marsh's letter in the Guardian.