Tuesday, June 21, 2005

On Writing: Flabby Coverage

The second (and sadly final) installment of my Popular Science column "Mediascope" just hit the press (in the July 2005 issue). This time, I go into the truly embarrassing way the media covered the recent CDC obesity studies. Unfortunately, as the July issue hit the news stand, Popular Science decided to nix the entire column section of the magazine (with columns by me and two other writers), to make room for new features they wouldn't have space for otherwise. And just when I was starting to have fun with it ...

But the good news is, I've been talking to an editor at a different (yet-to-be-named) magazine, who will hopefully pick up where Popular Science left off. So for all you folks out there who've been emailing me saying how much you appreciate the column, stay tuned: I'll post an update as soon as I know where it will be published from here on.

As for the book: The deadline clock is ticking (very loud -- if I could find a way to turn it down, I would. It has a tendency to wake me up at night). But all is going very well. I have written more in the last few months than I thought was humanly possible. Who knew a person's arms and legs could get so sore from just sitting in one place without moving for so (SO) long ... at least I have a beautiful view (and air conditioning).

So, without further delay, here's my latest column. Obesity is a very sensitive and complicated issue -- especially in this country -- so this column is one I imagine I'll hear from a lot of readers about. (I've already gotten responses asking all kinds of questions; I'll post my replies here as soon as I'm able to write them.) Until then, here's the column:

A few weeks ago, I was eating in a restaurant in West Virginia (the second fattest state in the country), staring blankly at a television and thinking, I really should join a gym; this sitting-on-my-butt-all-day-occupation is showing. Suddenly the newscaster said, "Before you start that next diet, you won't want to miss this one! A new study suggests that those few extra pounds may actually help you live longer." To say there was a collective sigh of relief in the restaurant -- in the entire country -- would be an understatement. I found myself surrounded by strangers gaping at each other as if the newscaster had just announced the end of a military occupation: Did you hear that? We're free! They joked about ordering more pie, and I half expected them to start toasting each other with French fries.

The headlines read like a dream: "Gov't Overstated Danger of Obesity," "Fat May Be Good." Two New York Times columnists said that the fight against obesity had "lost the scientific high ground." They taunted "people who work out, eat responsibly," those "salad-munching health nuts" who, they gloated, would die young because, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, overweight people actually live longer than normal-weight people."

But wait: Only a month earlier, the Washington Post had reported a high-profile University of Illinois study showing that skyrocketing obesity rates are shortening life spans "[more] than the impact of car accidents, homicides and suicides combined." And major news outlets said studies revealed that "obesity triples the risk of dementia" and causes breathing problems. So what's the deal?

... click here for the rest of the column.

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Blogger Justine Larbalestier said...

Fabulous column. I think that's the first time I've understood what the hell was being argued in that report. Your prose is so clear. Lovely.

11:07 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

Yep, always a pleasure to see complex issues explained clearly.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Skloot said...

Awh shucks ... thanks! And Justine, it was fun to come back to the land of the internet and find that you'd had a lively exchange about my column on your blog. Maybe both be in the city long enough, and at the same time, so we can see each other in person again ... Hope so.

8:19 PM  

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