The Deputy Head of News and Current Affairs has replied to both complaints as if they were one.
1 Reporting Scotland
On Saturday 26th May 2018 at 5:45pm, we heard:
‘New research suggests that more than 1 in 3 women in Scotland will be morbidly obese, that’s at least 100 pounds above their ideal weight, by 2035. The research presented today in Vienna at the European Congress on Obesity indicates that women who have been to university are likely to be more adversely affected than those who didn’t
Here are the figures from a report in Medical Express:
‘The new estimates indicate that rates of morbid obesity in adults will reach 5% in Scotland (compared to 4% in 2015), 8% in England (2.9% in 2016), and 11% in Wales (3% in 2015) by 2035.’
So, 1 in 20 Scots are expected to be morbidly obese by 2035. Even if the percentage for Scottish women is higher than for men, 1 in 3 is highly improbable. Perhaps Reporting Scotland have misread the prediction for overall obesity rates as being that for morbid obesity rates? See this:
‘By 2035, [not morbid] obesity rates will be highest, and see the greatest rise, in adults working in routine and manual positions. As a result, the difference in obesity levels between those in managerial roles (29% males, 31% females) and those in routine and manual roles (39% males, 40% females) is expected to widen in England and Wales (with the exception of English females where it is expected to reduce).’
It seems too obvious. Have I missed something?
There are two serious problems with this report.
First, we appear to have an error confusing obesity with morbid obesity, producing tabloid headlines with a consequent negative effect on many female viewers and thus failing to inform viewers in a manner promised in the BBC’s charter.
Second, we have the failure to report on the key finding that morbid obesity, in Scotland, is expected to plateau at 5% while soaring past that figure elsewhere in the UK.
Third, we have the failure to report on the explanation for the above trend. The researchers offered a clear, confident and simple explanation for the significantly slower growth in obesity in Scotland – Scottish Government policy initiatives and resource allocation. For example: ‘The government put a massive push on developing a route map for how we can actually combat this. They put together resources from the NHS that were proving to be effective. They did put a lot of work into it.’ Further evidence of the effectiveness of the above initiatives can be seen in this from the Evening Express: ‘However, almost no 15-to-24-year-old males in Scotland are expected to fall within this category, compared to 6% of the same group in England, the data shows.’
2 Good Morning Scotland
In the report on obesity, at 09:00, we heard nine, long, compound sentences yet no reference was made to key role played by Scottish Government policy initiatives and resource allocation as stated clearly by the university researchers. In the Independent newspaper report, for example, we were able to read that the researchers offered a clear, confident and simple explanation for the significantly slower growth in obesity in Scotland – Scottish Government policy initiatives and resource allocation. For example: ‘The government put a massive push on developing a route map for how we can actually combat this. They put together resources from the NHS that were proving to be effective. They did put a lot of work into it.’ Why was this omitted?
The GMS report is thus missing a key explanatory component and one which, when omitted, denied the SNP-led government due credit. I remind you of your responsibility to inform your audience.
BBC RESPONSE 1:
Morbid obesity complaint
Thank you for your e-mail. Your comments under CAS-4941139-HMPVR9 and CAS-4940361-J4C08P were passed to the Deputy Head of News and Current Affairs, who has asked that I forward his response as follows:
“Thank you for being in touch about Good Morning Scotland and Reporting Scotland on 26th May. As the complaints are similar I propose to deal with them both here.
The radio item to which you refer lasted less than a minute, including the intro; and less than half a minute in the television report. In that timescale, only the principal points can be made. One of them was that by 2035 obesity levels in Scotland amongst women who had gone to university would have doubled and be higher (40.1%) than levels amongst women who had not gone to university (36.7%). On Radio Scotland, the report (which was longer than the TV report) also made the point that Scotland was likely to fare better than England and Wales over the next seventeen years.
However, as you rightly point out, the report on television also said that new research suggested that more than one in three women in Scotland would be morbidly obese by 2035. The reference should have been to general obesity. (Although you do not mention this in your radio complaint, the same reference was also made there.) I have investigated this and I believe that there was an honest mistake made under customary newsroom deadline conditions: the table for general obesity (which was mistaken for morbid obesity) was included in a research file marked “morbid obesity” in amongst information about morbid obesity. However, to explain is not to excuse and I have ensured that your detailed comments are being taken on board by my team in order to help prevent such an occurrence again.
The compilers of the research stated: “Our study reveals a worrying picture of rising morbid obesity across England, Wales and Scotland that is likely to weigh heavily on healthcare systems and economies.” They also pointed out that “the limitations that apply to the quality, precision and availability of the data demand cautious interpretation” and they also noted that “uncertainties always exist when making predictions as past trends do not always predict future trends. In addition, the study cannot predict the effect that future interventions or policies will have on social inequalities in obesity.” These are in our view important caveats, entered by the authors themselves, and we took these and other factors into account in reporting this story.
MY SECOND COMPLAINT:
Second complaint in cases CAS-4941139-HMPVR9 and CAS-4940361-J4C08P.
- Your conflation of the two complaints is not really acceptable and, I suspect, contrary to the regulations for dealing with such as it seeks to confuse and to obscure them.
- Regarding the factual error in your use of the term ‘morbid’, whether the mistake was honest is not the issue. This was a serious error which may have caused upset and anxiety and requires correcting publicly in Reporting Scotland. Please let me know when you will do this.
- Your excuse of timescale does not justify a failure to inform accurately. Three principal points – that morbid obesity is expected to plateau at 5%, that the authors have identified Scottish government policy initiatives as responsible for this in Scotland and that no Scottish 15-24-year-olds are expected to fall into this category compared to 6% in England – were central for Scottish viewers, you audience. Please let me know when you will make these corrections public on both Good Morning Scotland and Reporting Scotland.