Using suggestive terms like “epidemic” and “toxic,” the food cops featured in this week’s Washington Post series on obesity among American children sound more like agenda-driven lobbyists than objective professionals. Their questionable choices in wording are not the only evidence of bias. The noticeably absent evidence for their extreme viewpoints also points to their partiality. Case in point: The controversial comments of nutrition zealot David Ludwig are overstated and unsubstantiated.

In the Sunday Post, Ludwig compares obesity to global warming, saying that “we don’t have all the data yet” for either issue. But if we wait to gather the necessary evidence before we act, he warns, “it’s going to be too late.” This isn’t the first time Ludwig has asked the public to accept his dire warnings not on facts, but on faith. In a 2007 New England Journal of Medicine editorial, he claimed (without any supporting evidence) that obesity would reduce life spans of the current generation — an allegation echoed by another obesity scaremonger in the Sunday Post feature:

Like global warming, the obesity epidemic is a looming crisis that requires action before all the scientific evidence is in. And as with climate change, some have questioned experts’ forecasts, doubting the far-reaching impact of obesity, though skepticism is gradually being overcome by accumulating data.

Despite over-the-top declarations by Ludwig and others in the Sunday story, the “accumulating data” actually points in the other direction. Recent research has found that a little extra weight is, in fact, good for your health. A 2007 study in JAMA confirmed that fitness trumps fatness as a predictor of health. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that “we should continue to see improvements in life expectancy.”
Even Ludwig’s own research doesn’t support his allegations. In a 2005 study, he and fellow authors admitted that the “life expectancy forecasts might be inaccurate” and that their dire prediction about longevity relied on “collective judgment” rather than empirical, scientific evidence.
This life expectancy canard is just the beginning. Other “experts” featured by this week’s obesity series read like a “Who’s Who” of America’s food cops: “Twinkie Tax” godfather Kelly Brownell, CSPI spokeswoman Margo Wootan, obesity researcher S. Jay Olshansky, multiple activists from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, researchers from Pennington Biomedical Research Center (known for generating dubious reports about high fructose corn syrup), and many others.
But wait. There’s more to come. On Thursday, they will analyze “the food industry’s response to the obesity epidemic and what more can be done.” Care to wager what the verdict will be?