Junkfood Science: Is all media marketing?

February 16, 2007

Is all media marketing?

Yet another PBS program is revealed to have been funded by special interests. GlaxoSmithKline — the pharmaceutical giant that paid over $100 million for the U.S. rights to the prescription version of Orlistat and has undertaken an intense guerilla marketing campaign to convince Americans they need drugs to help them lose weight — has underwritten an April program for PBS called “Fat: What no one is telling you.”

The Center for Digital Democracy, a nonprofit organization working to ensure that the digital media systems serve the public interest, brought attention to this issue.

John Eggerton, writing in Broadcasting & Cable, reports:

Diet Pill Maker Underwrites PBS Obesity Show

....Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, and a frequent critic of what he sees as the increasingly commercialization of noncommercial broadcasting, has written to PBS ombudsman Michael Getler to complain about what he sees as too lax sponsorship policies.

Glaxo is underwriting the April broadcast of Fat: What No One is Telling You, the second in the "Take One Step" series of health-related shows and outreach PBS is undertaking in concert with the YMCA...."We note that funding comes in part from GlaxoSmithKline," Chester wrote Getler. "The drug giant just happens to have a recently approved for over-the-counter drug on the market-under the brand name Alli, that is for "use by overweight adults along with a reduced calorie, low-fat diet."

The company is also featuring a lead story on obesity on its home page. While not mentioning the new drug or show, it calls obesity "more than just a disease," but also "more than just eating too much. But the world is getting weightier and the trends suggest that it will continue," says the company. "So, why is obesity such a problem, and what can be done about it?"

PBS program executives need to `cut the fat' out of their sloppy review of what's appropriate for underwriting," said Chester....

The program’s webpage describes the program, saying:

Face it: We're fat.

With 66 percent of U.S. adults either overweight or obese, our girth is a serious public health issue.... FAT's engaging personal narratives create snapshots of our national struggle with obesity...

Obesity was presented uncritically as a public health crisis and in need of interventions. PBS responded to Center for Digital Democracy with a statement saying that corporate sponsors have no editorial input into show production. It didn't address the input of the nonprofit sponsor, America on the Move, and its work in support of the government's anti-obesity initiatives. The program focuses on why “it is so tough to shed pounds and keep them off,” with far-reaching interventions necessary, and cites all of the popular myths — not careful science — about obesity. Personal anecdotes depicted in the show include those from a bariatric patient, a public health official and a diet doctor who is described as “a clinician, researcher and above all an empathetic warrior in the battle against obesity.”

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