To BBC Executive Complaints Unit : Incorrect use of and omission of data on obesity
I write to continue my complaint after my second complaint was met with this on 18.6.28:
We have discussed your comments with the Deputy Head of News and Current Affairs, but he has nothing further to add. For this reason, I’m afraid we cannot correspond with you further at this first stage of the complaints process. If, however you are still dissatisfied, you can contact the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU).
To keep within your 1000 word limit, I have had to shorten both my complaints and the one response I did get.
Initial complaint May 27 CAS-4941139-HMPVR9 Reporting Scotland:
‘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.’
From a report in Medical Express: ‘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. There are three serious problems with this report. First, the error confusing obesity with morbid obesity thus failing to inform viewers in a manner promised in the BBC’s charter. Second, 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, 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.’ The effectiveness of the above initiatives can be seen in this: ‘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.’
CAS-4940361-J4C08P: 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?
BBC 1st response June 8th Reference CAS-4941139-HMPVR9
‘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.’
(Note: Final paragraph, not needed and removed to keep within word limit)
2nd complaint: June 11th RENUMBERED by BBC – CAS-4959059-HN2DLY
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. 2. 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. 3. 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 research 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.