Obesity debate heats up

WASHINGTON: The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) went on the attack late last month after the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released new numbers that some say disproved a 2004 study blaming obesity for widespread fatalities.

WASHINGTON: The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) went on the attack late last month after the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released new numbers that some say disproved a 2004 study blaming obesity for widespread fatalities.

CCF, which receives much of its funding from the food industry, immediately jumped on the new figures, circulating a series of news releases among the media and running ads in top newspapers about what the group calls hype surrounding obesity.

"We're trying to communicate to the public that this is a problem that has been greatly exaggerated," said Mike Burita, CCF's director of communications.

In 2004, the CDC released a study claiming that being overweight is responsible for the deaths of 365,000 Americans annually. The new study puts that figure closer to 26,000 deaths. It also ranked obesity as the No. 7 leading cause of preventable deaths, down from No. 2 in the 2004 study.

Although Burita said that for individuals obesity is a serious problem, referring to obesity as "an epidemic or even comparing it to SARS...is confusing to the public."

CCF has also released its own report, "An Epidemic of Obesity Myths," to set the record straight.

Courtney Bolen, a CDC spokeswoman, said that the new study still demonstrates that obesity is a serious problem facing many Americans.

Jeff Cronin, communications director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, dismissed CCF's latest effort, saying the group's impact has waned.

"We have no interest in responding to an industry front group that does PR dirty work for anonymous companies," Cronin said.

He added CSPI's proactive strategy is to promote healthy nutrition policies on the federal, state, and local levels.

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