Thursday, November 12, 2009

CNN calls obese kids "coronary time bombs"

The top story on CNN online this morning has the headline: "Obese kids are coronary time bombs."

What is your opinion of that headline?

It is good to be frank about the health consequences of childhood obesity, to motivate a vigorous response from parents and policy-makers alike. At the same time, we should respect and support the quality of life for the many children who will be overweight for much of their lives.

It seems helpful to say, as an expert quoted in the body of the CNN article does, "Our study suggests that more of these young adults will have heart disease when they are 35-50 years old, resulting in more hospitalizations, medical procedures, need for chronic medications, missed work days and shortened life expectancy."

But it seems unhelpful to call obese kids time bombs. It's stigmatizing. As a metaphor or image, "time bomb" doesn't bring to mind a correct impression of the health consequences as a scientist would see them. The article seems at times to be concerned about the teasing that heavy kids get in school, but that nuance is not carried through consistently. The "coronary time bomb" language was not from any of the experts quoted or evidence cited, but was in the CNN author's own voice.

The article is supported by direct advertising for an anti-cholesterol drug, Vytorin. Clearly, the advertising is linked with the content of the article. The fear-enhancing message in the article text serves well to generate interest in the ad. The ad has the same color scheme as the CNN website, increasing the visual sense of linkage. The teaser for the ad is: "What are you doing about cholesterol and the Two Sources -- food and family?"

Here is information, which does not appear in the ad on CNN, but rather on the Zytorin website linked from the ad:
VYTORIN contains two cholesterol medicines, Zetia (ezetimibe) and Zocor (simvastatin), in a single tablet. VYTORIN has not been shown to reduce heart attacks or strokes more than Zocor alone.

Selected Important Risk Information About VYTORIN
VYTORIN is a prescription tablet and isn‘t right for everyone, including women who are nursing or pregnant or who may become pregnant, and anyone with liver problems.

Unexplained muscle pain or weakness could be a sign of a rare but serious side effect and should be reported to your doctor right away. VYTORIN may interact with other medicines or certain foods, increasing your risk of getting this serious side effect. So, tell your doctor about any other medications you are taking.


Yoni Freedhoff said...

Great post Parke (and one hell of a headline for CNN).

It's tough to report on weight related risks without it coming off as a foregone conclusion and in turn that may well feed into fatism.

Of course not reporting on the risks of weight, especially in kids, probably doesn't do the risks justice either.

Tracy said...

Wow, CNN. Headline fail. What, you were worried that your audience's collective blood pressure might drop in the absence of Lou Dobbs? Sigh.

Seriously though, thanks for this post, Parke. I am increasingly convinced that there is no way it's good for our collective health to make people feel bad about themselves, and far too much reporting on the obesity crisis only compounds the problem by reinforcing unhealthy stigmatization.

Vic said...

"Fatism?" WTF is "fatism?"


Anonymous said...

Wait, isn't Vytorin the drug which was clinically proven to (1) reduce bad cholesterol; (2) increase arterial plaque; (3) increase the chance of death? Why the hell are we still marketing this drug?

Chantal said...

I think there comes a point in a nation's health where the gloves need to come off and we need to start stating things as they are. This headline was one of them. I know it's harsh, but tough love is sometimes what people need to hear.

There was nothing offensive or exaggerate about this headline. It told the truth. I don't usually condone CNN, but given that we as a developed country now have parents who actually have a longer life expectancy than their children, we've got to start addressing this.