Filed Under: Big Fat Lies

CCF To CDC: Stop Stonewalling

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still insists on using its deeply flawed study purportedly showing that obesity kills 400,000 Americans each year. And so the Center for Consumer Freedom must ask them again to set the record straight. The CDC should get the weight of its blemished obesity study off its chest, and help prevent frivolous and unnecessary regulation and litigation.

Click here for a complete timeline of events surrounding the CDC’s study. The highlights follow:

11 months ago: Science magazine reports that obesity researchers, including some at the CDC, “argue that the paper’s compatibility with a new antiobesity theme in government public health pronouncements — rather than sound analysis — propelled it into print …”

10 months ago: CCF releases “An Epidemic of Obesity Myths,” outlining the flaws in the CDC’s study. Meanwhile, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) requests a Government Accountability Office investigation of the CDC’s death estimate.

8 months ago: A team of researchers from the CDC and the National Institutes of Health publishes a paper in the American Journal of Epidemiology critiquing the method used in the 400,000-deaths paper. A second paper, published in the American Journal of Public Health by an overlapping team of researchers, again criticizes the 400,000-deaths paper’s method. Importantly, both studies were submitted for publication before the 400,000-deaths study appeared in JAMA.

5 months ago: The Wall Street Journal publishes a front-page story on errors in the 400,000-deaths study. The paper notes the research “inflated the impact of obesity on the annual death toll by tens of thousands due to statistical errors …”

4 months ago: A follow-up story in the Wall Street Journal reports that, due to additional problems based on the “authors’ scientific approach”: “The number of obesity-related deaths could be less than half of the 400,000 estimated in the flawed CDC study, according to some scientists familiar with the debate.”

3 months ago: The CDC publishes an erratum that lowers its estimate to 365,000 deaths.

2 months ago: The CDC buries on its website a summary of its internal investigation into the 400,000 number. The summary reads in part: “The scientists expressed concerns and did meet with some of the authors but they were not convinced that their perspectives were listened to or that requests for data were acknowledged … While there was at least one error in the calculations and both the presentation of the paper and limitations of the approach could have been expressed more clearly, the fundamental scientific problem centers around the limitations in both the data and the methodology in this area.”

A CDC spokesperson refuses CCF’s request to turn over the full report of the CDC’s internal investigation, and instead refers us to the agency’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) office. CCF files a formal FOIA request to obtain the committee’s full report.

CCF calls on the CDC to publicly retract its study. Responding to a CCF op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, CDC’s Chief of Science — whose primary job is “maintaining the integrity and productivity of CDC’s scientists by resolving controversial scientific issues” — argues “we cannot and should not let this discussion of scientific methodology detract from the real issue.”

Two weeks ago: The CDC cites “backlogged FOIA requests” as its reason for failing to fulfill our request in a timely manner. The law requires that the agency fulfill our request within 20 business days, with the option to file for a 10 day extension.

Even as a mountain of evidence — growing by the day — further strains the CDC’s credibility, the agency has yet to retract its flawed and most likely politically motivated obesity deaths number. We’re left demanding: CDC, come clean, and stop using this flawed and exaggerated statistic.

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