My friend and colleague Lisa Morrison sent me a link this morning to an editorial from San Antonio, Texas (on MySanAntonio.com, a partnership between the newspaper San Antonio Express-News and the television station KENS 5) that had gotten her worked up before her morning coffee. But after taking a look at it myself, I understand her frustration. It’s enough to turn your hair red. The editorial is so ridiculous the author didn’t even sign their name to it, presumably they’re too embarrassed to forever link themselves to such blather. The entire argument, if you can even call it that, can be summed up neatly by the title, “TV + beer = round bodies.”
It’s mercifully short, at least, so go ahead a take a look for yourself. The entirety of their support for the argument that drinking beer and watching too much TV is responsible for the country’s obesity problem stems from three data points from an abstract released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week by way of a Reuters article. The first is that “two-thirds of Americans are overweight, including one-third of whom are obese.” Next is that “Americans will spend an average of nearly 4 1/2 hours daily in front of the television” (although the editorial says 10 hours, including “reading books and surfing the Internet” but leaves out the other Census data about listening to the radio, “listening to recorded music,” along with “reading newspapers, playing video games and reading other media.”). Lastly, we drink a half gallon of beer each week on average — I know I’m doing my part. So the editorial takes those pieces of Census data and believes they have the proof that “[b]eer and television lead to big bellies.” And not only does this constitute proof in the mind of the article’s anonymous author, but they also believe that their reasoning is “common sense.”
Here’s some more brilliant analysis:
The bureau does not interpret the data; it merely presents it, but it does not take a social scientist to see that there may be a connection between obesity and beer drinking and television viewing.
If people spent less time watching television and drinking beer, we might see a more encouraging figure when the bureau does its next abstract — a decrease in the amount of overweight Americans.
What the author fails to mention is the figures cited by Reuters come from a “1,300-page book of tables and statistics” that includes 1,376 separate tables of data. To cherry pick three of them and claim to prove a correlation between them is ludicrous.
Other data includes “Per capita consumption of corn sweeteners, including high-fructose syrup, totaled 78.1 pounds in the United States in 2004, up from 35.3 pounds in 1980 but on a downward trend from 81.8 pounds consumed in 2000.” But I’m sure all that sugar had nothing to do with obesity trends. It has to be the beer. That’s just common sense, right?
As Lisa put it:
I cannot believe this editorial actually targets beer consumption (and nothing else except watching TV) for the increased weight of Americans. Like eating too much food or drinking sugary sodas or even sipping too much of the Blessed Red Wine (caps intended) wouldn’t contribute to the creeping numbers on the scale …
There are obviously so many factors that lead to obesity that to simplify it as being caused by beer and television is more than a bit insulting. Not only do many other drinks — both alcoholic and non-alcoholic — also pack on the pounds but snack foods and other empty-calorie eats do at least as much to increase weight gain for sedentary people.
I can’t help but wonder who wrote the editorial and what their real motives or agenda were? Do I smell neo-prohibitionists trying to connect dots that aren’t there? Or merely some misguided journalist with a deadline and not much time to think about what he or she is writing?