Critic Links Cable to Teen-Age Obesity


The cable industry came under attack Tuesday from a critic who linked cable
programming to the growing problem of teen-age obesity, a public health issue
that has caused state lawmakers to propose taxes on fat food and bans on the
sale of soda and candy in public schools.

"I think the cable industry is responsible," said Jeff Chester, executive
director of the Center of Digital Democracy, who is fighting cable on a number
of policy fronts. "I think anyone out there who is a parent will recognize that
there is a problem today, and part of it is television."

Chester, who described an "epidemic around overeating," addressed reporters
at a news conference where a new study was released calling for extensive
reregulation of the cable industry, from how it offers and prices programming to
how it connects consumers to the Internet.

The report, sponsored by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, called for
legislation that would devolve authority over cable from the Federal
Communications Commission to state and local governments.

Although the report included some new public-policy approaches toward cable,
it did not draw conclusions about cable's alleged association with obesity,
which U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary Tommy G. Thompson
was quoted as naming "the fastest-growing disease in America," with links to
heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Chester said that with millions of children viewing cable TV, the cable
industry was a contributing factor to kids who are growing up overweight.

"They have to, in fact, take actions, look at their programming, look at
their practices, look at their business models and ask that they are certainly
contributing to this problem that in this country we who care about kids are
facing," Chester said.

Mike Burita, spokesman for the Center for Consumer Freedom, a
food-industry-funded trade group, called Chester's comment a "kind of ridiculous
statement," adding that the question wasn't whether someone was consuming good
or bad food but whether they were adhering to a good or bad