March 2009
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Media-made 'experts' are hazardous to your health

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

Dump your Jewish friends.

You read me right — dump ’em. Only, it's not really dumping. It's for your own self-preservation, so that makes it OK, even laudable.

Relax. I'm just taking a page from the book of MeMe Roth, whom the media have enshrined as an obesity "expert."

MeMe, whose greatest hits include calling “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks a walking disease because she's bigger than a size 2, in January launched a diatribe against the Fox show, “Diet Tribe.”

“Diet Tribe” is about friends banding together to lose weight. You'd think, when “find a buddy” tops the list of weight-loss tricks, these people's initiative would score some points.

Not with Meme.

She thinks hanging out with fat people will make you fat (look out, Gail!), so really, these pathetic people are sabotaging themselves. It's not enough that they are trying to conform to her silly standards while simultaneously promoting self-loathing among other fat people. They're not trying weightloss the right way!

As you might've figured, Meme says people should dump their fat friends; hence, the tongue-in-cheek suggestion to jettison your Jewish pals.

She told Neal Cavuto of the Fox network that “study after study” shows

obesity is contagious among friends. “This is a life-or-death matter,” she said primly, exhorting us all not to hang with people who weaken our resolve to be healthy. She even compared eating to alcoholism.

(I'd launch into my own diatribe about how fat and health are not mutually exclusive and how food, unlike alcohol or tobacco, is a necessity, but we've been down that road before.)

Though Cavuto did an admirable job of grilling her, even accusing Meme of branding fat people with a scarlet letter, he failed where it counted most.

He didn't ask what studies show you can “catch” obesity, nor did he question her qualifications.

According to Elle magazine, which dubbed her a “health guru,” Meme has a certificate in nutrition through a sixmonth program — obtained well after she became a public busybody. Elle's strategy was to trot out real experts, some of whom bolstered Meme's viewpoint and — a rarity in the mainstream media — a few who did not. No editorial sleights-of-hand can hide it, though: Meme is about as much an expert on obesity as I am in Hebraic studies.

Meme's more applicable qualification is her marketing background. That explains her skill at manipulating others, and she no doubts relishes the irony each time her detractors are forced to spill ink on her.

Here's what might explain her hatred: On the web site for NAAO (which Elle tellingly hinted was a "onewoman show"), it emerges Meme became terrified of fat after some jerks at her wedding began taking bets on how long it would take her to become fat, like the rest of her family. She then became obsessed with weight.

So inside, she's still a terrified little bride, but frankly, I don't care. Meme Roth doesn't have the right to inflict her internal misery on others, let alone be hailed as a crusader and/or martyr. She isn't telling a hard truth. She is repeating statistical lies.

For instance, the idea that obesity is socially contagious is simply untrue.

The study Meme was possibly referencing was released in 2007, by Dr. Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. The study purportedly showed obesity spreads among friends, even longdistance friends. The idea caught on like wildfire; it's possible you even read one of the many reports about it.

The study supposedly proved having a fat friend increases your risk of becoming obese by 57 percent. The researchers claimed their analysis showed “a direct, causal relationship.”

But it doesn't.

Researchers Jason Fletcher and Ethan Cohen-Cole have tested the social-networking theory by using conditions no halfway sane person could believe are contagious, such as acne, height and headaches.

Their findings, as recounted by nurse Sandy Szwarc: Social networking increases your risk for growing taller by 58 percent; your risk for zits by 62 percent and your risk for headaches by 47 percent — similar to the supposed 57 percent increase in risk for obesity.

I didn't find this information on Fox, or for that matter, CNN. It was reported by Szwarc, who pointed to the British Medical Journal's December debunking of the social-networking theory.

She concludes what should be obvious: Physical traits are not contagious. Yet, she said, no amount of objective science could penetrate the “popular acceptance of this (social-networking) theory.”

Szwarc is a widow who scrambles for funding to keep her blog, Junkfood Science, going. Fox is a multi-billion dollar empire. Where is its excuse for not knowing enough to challenge the likes of Meme Roth?

Szwarc may have hinted at the answer: Obesity is the scapegoat du jour. It is popular to espouse the theories beloved by Meme.

Call it the Ann Coulter effect: Meme gets air time and ink because she is a slender blonde who spews outrageous bile at the drop of a hat.

Szwarc is one of the few people out there who actually follows the money in obesity studies, frequently straight back to those who have a vested interest in obesity being an “epidemic.” More than once, too, she's pointed out the number of news reports that are little more than reconstituted press releases originating from the same vested interests.

Now, guess which of these two women is dismissed as a crank? It ain't Meme.

That's because it's popular to bash fat people in the name of “health” and/or the government's bottom line. But passing off as an expert someone who is just a minimally qualified hatemonger does not serve the public well.

Katharhynn Heidelberg writes from Montrose, Colo.


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