Robert Price

Friday, Jun 06 2014 01:47 PM

SOUND OFF: Health page shouldn't support unhealthy habits

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    Robert Price is The Californian's executive editor. Email him at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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By Robert Price

Reader: The Californian's daily page labeled "Health" should be changed to "Studies to Support Unhealthy Habits." Once in a while there is a report on a study that might encourage a healthier lifestyle, but most of the time there is information that leans toward support of being unhealthy. I understand that being a bit controversial gets people to read an article, but today's (June 1) article, "Study: Diet soda drinkers lost more weight than water drinkers" went too far.

Unhealthy people are often looking for support of their eating and drinking habits to have a comeback to their friends and families who want them to live longer. Today's article certainly is one of those comebacks, if you don't read the last two paragraphs and have the ability to think and evaluate. Many only read the headlines.

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This feedback forum is designed to give readers a way to voice criticisms and compliments or ask questions about The Californian's news coverage. Your questions -- which may be edited for space -- are answered here each Saturday.

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"The American Beverage Association, a trade group that represents soft drink makers, funded the current study." Then, only 303 dieters even participated in the study. Doesn't the author realize that a study can prove anything if the researchers "stack-the-deck" so that the results come out to show the results they want to show?

It's all about money and business! The American Beverage Association wants people to drink sodas so THEY CAN MAKE MORE MONEY! People who have stopped drinking these totally toxic drinks, with sweetener or sugar, are costing this industry a great deal of money.

Seriously, The Bakersfield Californian needs to reevaluate its Health section and provide articles that support healthy lifestyles!

-- Donna Schwartz

Price: You're not portraying the Los Angeles Times article in question, or the journal article on which it was based, fairly. The editors of the journal Obesity were apparently so concerned about the findings, and the funding behind the findings, that they commissioned an accompanying critique by Steven Anton of the University of Florida at Gainesville Medical School. Anton noted that a 12-week study is hardly conclusive and that "a large body of evidence" shows that sugar-sweetened beverages promote weight gain in children and adults. All of that was prominent in the article you cite. In fact, The Times' Mary Macvean spelled out Anton's reservations about the study before she even explained how the study was carried out.

You didn't have to go very far to read "Some nutritionists say artificial sweeteners can confuse the body with the promise of sweets, and prompt the consumption of caloric products in compensation." And Macvean quotes a dietician who says the American Beverage Association's participation in the study raises a red flag.

You're correct that some readers don't go past the headline. A better one would have been something like "Critics throw cold water on industry-funded diet soda study." But I don't see how diet soda-holics who actually read the story -- or even four paragraphs of the story -- could possibly think they now had "a comeback to their friends and families who want them to live longer." More likely their friends and families now have a comeback for them.

But let's say you're correct and the article did in fact promote an unhealthful lifestyle. I'd place your complaint in the "Since You Did It Once You Surely Must Do It Regularly" file. I looked back at the articles we selected over the past two months for our Health page and failed to locate anything that would remotely qualify for your proposed "Studies to Support Unhealthy Habits" section, let alone support your contention that "most of the time there is information which leans toward support of being unhealthy."

Here are a few of our recent Health articles. May 22: "Researchers link high cholesterol, infertility." May 1: "Testosterone: Physicians call for more, better safety research." April 25: "Childhood vaccines save 731,700 lives and $1.7 trillion, CDC says." April 24: "Hospitals that push faster stroke care get better results." So, there: I just reevaluated our Health coverage, as you suggest, and am declaring it just fine.

Factor in that we've added a new weekly roundup of local and national news in health and medicine, The Pulse by reporter Courtenay Edelhart, and I think we're better than fine.

If we published stories about suspect health studies any more frequently than once in a blue moon, I might be worried. We don't.

***

Reader: What does it say about our local political system when the hottest race is county assessor? County assessor should not even be an elected office, a glorified bureaucrat. Shocked at the low turnout in Kern (16.3 percent)? Then maybe there should be more reporting on the lack of choice and the ironclad control over which candidate gets resources. It's amazing how the local media is just waking up to the lack of choice in our political system only this year. Russell (Johnson) is running because he needs another job and (John) Lifquist is running because (political consultant Mark) Abernathy told him to.

-- cynic08 (from story commenting)

Price: I'm placing your complaint in the "Since Evidence to the Contrary is Not Right in Front of Me At This Moment, You Must Have Failed" file. I can't speak for other local media, but this is one horse we've flogged past the point of productivity. We have bemoaned the dearth of qualified political candidates in columns and editorials for a long, long time.

Most recently, our March 14 editorial was "Just one race? Apathy is the only winner." The key portion: "Maybe taxpayers are happy with the status quo. Maybe residents and political organizations couldn't identify, or financially support, viable candidates this time around. But the lack of opposition (in political races) is likely a sign of something more disappointing: political apathy."

I've been at this somebody-please-run-for-office thing literally for years. In January 2006, when it appeared that then-District Attorney Ed Jagels would be running unopposed for the sixth straight election, I put my disgust in a column.

"Unlike in the Kern County Sheriff's race, no one in Jagels' own office seems inclined to run against him ... Any of a handful of Superior Court judges (would qualify), but they might have to work harder and for less money than they now earn as judges.

"There's a group of skilled private civil attorneys out there -- maybe even a couple of criminal defense attorneys -- who could be competent chief administrators, but we haven't heard much noise from that corner.

"Face it: Barring an extraordinary development between now and the March 10 filing deadline, Kern County will be getting four more years of Ed Jagels."

After the 5 p.m. deadline passed on March 10, and no one had filed to oppose Jagels, he and a half-dozen prosecutors invited me to join them for a celebratory beer at a local pub. I manned up and drove over to join them. There may have been a smirk or two at the table. "But you know," I recall telling Jagels, "you really should have had some competition somewhere along the way." Or words to that effect.

Things haven't gotten any better since.

***

Reader: I think Saturday has replaced Sunday as my favorite paper day. It's nice to have the color comics and big crosswords on Sunday, but Saturday seems to sum up the week's news perfectly, especially when combined with the reader input in Sound Off.

... I'd like to put in a plug for TBC Mobile, which alerted us last evening (May 30) to the verdict in the case against Anna Marie Reynosa, penned by Jason Kotowski. While it seems that a maximum sentence of one year behind bars seems light for carelessly driving through a stop sign at 60-plus mph in a 45 mph zone, possibly while texting, and subsequently smashing into and killing an innocent stopped at that sign, my comment is not about the case or the verdict.

My comment is about the effectiveness of the mobile app that brought us that breaking news. This must truly be the future of print media and the salvation of journalism. I hope more readers will avail themselves of this terrific compliment to their subscriptions, and will continue to support independent reporting through paid newspaper subscriptions.

Newspapers are about more than comics, crosswords and op-ed pages. They are essential to the very preservation of our most precious rights, because they seek out and present information. And whether or not we find the information, facts and figures they present palatable, we should never forget that an informed public is a powerful public. Thank you, TBC!

Okay. On to that tricky Saturday crossword and Book TV.

-- Pam Wildermuth

Price: Mobile apps will only be the salvation of journalism if people embrace them, and you've done a pretty job of convincing the Luddites and reluctant adapters out there to give it a try. If you've got a smartphone or tablet, using TBC Mobile is ridiculously simple.

***

Reader: In reading Saturday's Sound Off, I could only chuckle as The Californian takes hits from all sides. Some pretty far off point. I did appreciate learning the background information of the syndicated columnists the Opinion page chooses to (publish). And agree, that in this market, leaning conservative is the dollar-wise decision.

... However, the accusation that takes the cake is how The Californian skews reporting toward Hispanic interest. Believing only Hispanics' graduation pictures were published (in the six-page photo gallery May 29) was way over the top.

... I applaud your wisdom in not simply informing the reader how wrong she was (but also in) backing away from adding fuel to her fire by informing her whites are a minority in California, facts that will not go down well in Kern County.

Thanks for your efforts in advancing a moderate perspective and approaching issues with moderation.

-- Wade Eagleton

Price: It's true: No single racial or ethnic group constitutes a majority of California's population, making this a minority-majority state. Hispanics' share of the overall state population will continue to increase to about 41 percent by 2020 and non-Hispanic whites will drop to about 37 percent, demographers say. By 2060, Hispanics could represent 48 percent of the state's population, with whites below 30 percent. So future Bakersfield-area graduations will only become more and more "Hispanic."

***

Reader: Many thanks to Steven Mayer for the deeper parts of vets' experiences (portrayed in The Californian's May 26 special section, "The Legacy of the Greatest Generation"). I was going to list special ones but for now just thanks for digging and relating the information, each with unique twists of telling!! Steve is gifted.

-- Mrs. Clifford Johnson

Price: In case anyone has forgotten how wonderful Steven Mayer is, I offer Mrs. Johnson's letter. Steve is one of our chief go-to guys; today he's in New York covering California Chrome and the Coburn family at the Belmont Stakes.

***

Reader: My compliments to ... your staff for a great edition on D-Day this morning (June 6). I remember great front pages during the war when I was 9 to 13. I'll never forget them, and I thought this was marvelous today.

We won the war because of three things: The U.S. (military) and its Allied troops, our citizens, ... and communication -- the press and the radio, the motion picture industry and the tons of magazines that we read every day. (They) kept us fully informed, all of us, even us children ... I'll never forget The Californian and I'll always be a subscriber because of that reason. My compliments to the whole paper.

-- Carol Owen

Executive Editor Robert Price and The Californian welcome your comments and suggestions. To offer your input by phone, please call 395-7649 and leave your comments in a voice-mail message or send an email to soundoff@bakersfield.com. Please include your name and phone number. Phone numbers and addresses won't be published.

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