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Sunday, March 4, 2018

How not to report a story: The Current goes for false balance with negative overtones

Weight Watchers promotes healthy eating. The accent is not on weight loss.
The Current on CBC radio, featuring host Anna Maria Tremonti, recently claimed to be examining the offer of six weeks of free Weight Watchers memberships to teens between the ages of 13 and 17 this summer..

It was not much of an examination. To learn more, I googled the offer, but I failed to find the original announcement. It would have been nice if CBC had thought to post a link.

Weight Watchers apparently stated right up front that this offer was not about dieting and not about weight loss. No, Weight Watchers was offering to help teens develop the healthy eating habits so necessary at there time of life. And let's make one thing clear: today, this is very important. There is a serious problem with how our kids are learning to eat.

For the most part, the CBC and Anna Maria Tremonti ignored this very important and very believable claim by WW. I can understand why; there was a time that I, too, believed Weight Watchers was just a dieting program, a weight loss program.

Then, in 2010 I had a heart event that changed my life forever. I suffered a V-tach event, my heart went into overdrive hitting 300 beats per minute and I was rushed to the hospital. There, doctors placed defibrillator paddles on my chest and jolted my heart back into sinus rhythm. I now have an ICD/pacemaker in my chest. ICD stands for implantable cardioverter defibrillator. If my heart rate heads for the stratosphere again, and it has, my ICD shocks it back into its proper rhythm.

Roasted Madras Curry Cauliflower with Raita
I take oodles of meds and watch my diet carefully. At one point, I weighed almost 220 pounds. Not good. My doctors told me to get my weight down. Something under 170 pounds would be a fine goal.

My stroke doctor gave me a package of recipes and told me not to think of this not as a diet but as a whole new way of eating and quite possibly a better, more enjoyable, way of eating.

Coincidentally my wife was starting Weight Watchers at the same time. It was immediately clear that her diet and mine were quite similar. We embarked on the Weight Watchers approach to dining well together.

We counted points, don't ask, and slowly we lost weight. It took a lot of months, more than a year, but I got down to 165 pounds and I've stayed close to this weight ever since. And this success is, in no small measure, thanks to the Weight Watchers program. We didn't feel we had to cutback on our food but instead we expanded our food choices. We learned to eat wisely and well.

Following my doctors' and Weight Watchers instructions, we have discovered  a whole new way of eating, just as promised. I wish I'd been offered this program when I was a teen. I've always loved food and I find our new approach to dining is for food lovers.

So, how did CBC handle this story. Well, the broadcaster almost immediately cut to an interview with a holistic health coach, trained at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. And what exactly is the IIN? I googled it and learned many call the online school a diploma mill.

The accusations must be awfully common as the IIN defends itself by stating clearly online that they are not a scam. They point out that much of the criticism of the school is of the strawman variety. Their health coach graduates are not registered dietitians and do not claim to be. A search of the U.S. Dep't of Education database confirms the IIN is telling the truth: its graduates are not registered dietitians.

There is a story here. The Weight Watchers offer deserves examination. That said, I don't find the debate, if not manufactured by the CBC, certainly promoted by it, to be the correct angle. Journalists can do better. I know. I worked for almost four decades in the media.

This is an important matter and our public broadcaster let us down. Just today I saw an article in The Harvard Gazette: a "comprehensive national strategy (is needed) across all relevant segments of society to prevent a looming public health disaster." This was written for Americans but the problem is also prevalent in Canada. In my lifetime, obesity among the young has increased two, possibly even three fold in Canada.

The CBC should have sent reporters to numerous Weight Watcher centres across the country. They could have learned whether or not a consistent approach is going to be taken by all WW leaders. As the Harvard article points out:

We have deep knowledge of the biological drivers of obesity, which include:

  • poor diet quality
  • excessive sedentary time
  • inadequate physical activity
  • stress
  • leep deprivation
  • perinatal factors
  • and probably environmental endocrine-disrupting chemicals


What is lacking is an effective strategy to address these drivers with sufficient intensity, consistency, and persistence, according to David Ludwig, professor in Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and founding director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Boston Children’s Hospital.

CBC had a chance to be part of the solution; they chose to be part of the problem.