Ag groups bristle at documentary
Potato, sugar industries reject different aspects of obesity-focused series
By JOHN O'CONNELL
National potato industry leaders believe material posted online to supplement the four-part HBO documentary "The Weight of the Nation" inaccurately describes U.S. french fry consumption.
Sugar industry representatives take the series to task for lumping their product in with high-fructose corn syrup. The series aired May 14-15.
A chart posted at http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com/themes/what-is-obesity depicts the time needed to work off an average serving of fast food fries by biking, running, walking, playing tennis or swimming. It estimates the average serving size at 6.9 ounces and 610 calories.
National Potato Council spokesman Mark Szymanski said that quantity equates to McDonald's supersize option, which is no longer available.
In response, NPC offered the Alliance for Potato Research's recent analysis of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Nutrition Examination Survey. APRE determined consumers eat an average 3-ounce serving, and spuds in general represent less than 3 percent of the calories consumed by adults and children.
Ritchey Toevs, a U.S. Potato Board commissioner who grows for the processed industry in Aberdeen, believes the issue highlights the importance of APRE.
"They're showing that potatoes are just 3 percent or less of the caloric intake of young children. Cutting out potatoes isn't going to change much (regarding obesity)," Toevs said. "The work by APRE is surprising us all in how little (potatoes) contribute to the total calories."
The series, a joint project of HBO and the Institute of Medicine, was based on an IOM report released May 8 at the CDC's "Weight of the Nation" conference.
Aside from the chart, Szymanski believes the series was relatively balanced.
"I think anyone watching it will be educated about the problems with obesity," Szymanski said, adding others within the potato industry have conveyed similar thoughts.
The IOM report estimated the nation spends $190.2 billion treating obesity-related illness and concludes America is moving too slow to address the crisis. On the current track, it concluded 42 percent of the U.S. population will be obese by 2030.
The Sugar Association Inc. issued a statement supporting the importance placed in the series on a well-balanced diet. The association, however, believes the series did viewers a disservice by using the term "sugar-sweetened beverages."
"More than 90 percent of sweetened beverages in the U.S. are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, which is chemically distinct and derived from a different source than common table sugar, the naturally occurring sugar found in sugar cane and sugar beets," the association wrote. "But the issue goes beyond just inaccurate terminology. Per-capita consumption of sucrose sugar has declined nearly 40 percent since 1970, when this obesity crisis evolved. The claim that half of the increase in calories in the U.S. comes from sugar is not only misleading, it is patently false."
On the Web: Visit http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com to watch the series online.