Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Julie Gerberding is apparently as bad at apologizing as she is at math. The agency held a press conference yesterday aimed at “clearing the confusion” about the risk of overweight and obesity. But all Gerberding did was dig herself into an even deeper hole.
Gerberding’s central message was simple: “It is not OK to be overweight.” That point stands in sharp contract with a recent study by CDC researcher Katherine Flegal, which found that being overweight prevented 86,000 deaths annually. Here Gerberding is trying to have her low-fat, sugar-free cake and eat it too. Just this week the agency finally embraced Flegal’s finding that obesity was responsible for 112,000 deaths per year. The CDC has acknowledged that Flegal’s study is “a step forward.” Yet for reasons that generate only more “confusion” (to say the least), Gerberding refuses to accept the study’s findings regarding overweight.
Gerberding offered the classic “apology” of a politician, saying: “I’m very sorry for the confusion that these scientific discussions have had.” What she should have apologized for is knowingly publishing a flawed study in the first place. As we told you last week, internal documents from the CDC indicate that the authors (which included Gerberding) of the study blaming overweight and obesity for 400,000 deaths per year were told they were using the wrong methodology, yet did nothing to resolve the problem before publication.
At yesterday’s press conference Gerberding insisted: “We don’t want people to artificially hide controversies. We want to get them out in the open.” That’s funny. For being so dedicated to getting things “out in the open,” the CDC has seemingly gone to great lengths to sweep the controversy surrounding its now-debunked 400,000-deaths study under the rug. The agency refused time and time again to release the complete findings of its internal review committee. Only after a Freedom of Information Act request from the Center for Consumer Freedom did the CDC release the report.
Of course, the Center for Consumer Freedom continues to hold the CDC’s feet to the fire for hyping obesity. Last night we told ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings:
There have always been heavy people in the United States. The question is: Do we have an obesity epidemic that’s equal to the Black Death, as the CDC said? And we don’t believe the problem is that great.
We told both the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Houston Chronicle that the CDC’s press conference amounted to “damage control.” And a widely-distributed Associated Press story notes that CCF:
…continues to contend CDC has knowingly misled the public about the scope of the obesity problem. Earlier, higher estimates of harm exaggerate the risk, the group contends.
So why do the CDC and other public health agencies continue to hype the cost of obesity? A report released yesterday by the Institute of Medicine sheds some light on the matter. The report — which was commissioned by the CDC following the controversy over its 400,000 deaths estimate — recommends that public health agencies:
“Develop a research agenda that offers the strong justification needed to persuade policymakers of the public health importance of reducing the impact of preventable lifestyle-related risks.”
Translation: Create research to justify your public policy agenda.
“Motivate the public to demand policy intervention around preventable illness.”
Translation: Promote public fears of fat to push for new legislation.
“Highlight the social cost of under funding the public health surveillance systems that could answer questions about lifestyle-related risks and enable society to use trillions of healthcare dollars more effectively.”
Translation: We want more money.