James Gill: Jaw-dropping news, brought to you by Coca-Cola: Lazy kids get fat _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- PBRC Executive Director Dr. William Cefalu, presents Paula Pennington de la Bretonne, left, with the first t-shirt for the program as Gov. Bobby Jindal, right, and legislators watch. Announced at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center is a New Translational Research Clinic for Children (TReCC). It's a Childhood Obesity and Diabetes Research Program with a new pediatric research clinic which is one of only a few of its kind in the nation dedicated to research in obesity in children.

We can all be proud today, because the latest scientific breakthrough comes from right here in Baton Rouge.

The frontier of human knowledge is never advanced without considerable effort, but LSU researchers were especially diligent on this occasion. They collected and analyzed data “from 12 countries and every continent, except Antarctica,” according to the news release that trumpeted their achievement.

You can imagine the excitement this caused in The Advocate offices. Stop the presses!

OK, I won’t keep you on tenterhooks any longer. Here is what the Pennington Biomedical Research Center discovered: “Children who do not get enough moderate to vigorous physical activity each day are more likely to be obese than their counterparts who are more active.”

The researchers did not up and announce their results until they were quite certain. They evaluated 6,000 9- to 11-year-olds and took childhood obesity studies to a new level. Those who went before only looked at children from “high-income countries,” but LSU boldly ventured into “countries ranging in levels of human development” to study kids with “diverse economic backgrounds.” They were, thus, able to establish that “culture, class or status” doesn’t cause obesity. Lazy kids get fat everywhere.

Jaw-dropping though this is, it leaves open the question of whether inactive adults might put on the pounds, too. Perhaps LSU will conduct another global study to clear up that mystery.

Meanwhile, let us go out on a limb and assume that exercise is good for everyone. It is certainly a good way to work up a thirst, and, when that happens, there is nothing better than a cold Coke.

LSU stops short of saying so, but it does note that its childhood obesity “research is funded by the Coca-Cola Company.” The conclusion that exercise is the solution is certainly good for the bottom line if you’re making the sugary drinks that are elsewhere fingered as one of the main culprits.

In fact, it may not do much good if you work out and then slake your thirst with a few Cokes. A 12-oz. can contains 140 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar. You’d have to walk 3 miles, the experts say, to work that off. But LSU wasn’t about to bite the hand that feeds it by telling you that.

Coca-Cola sponsored the LSU study as part of a multimillion-dollar campaign to downplay the role of diet and tout exercise as the best way to achieve a trim waist. To this end, it is underwriting an outfit called the Global Energy Balance Network, which urges consumers to fret less about what they eat and drink. Academics being no less venal than the rest of us, Coca-Cola has had no trouble enlisting university professors to spread the dubious word.

They generally reveal that Coca-Cola is footing the bill, which purportedly proves there is no attempt to deceive. Why, these guys all have chairs, and it is a rank impertinence to question their fierce independence and probity.

The public, noting that studies always seem to serve the interests of the corporations that pay for them, may not buy it, however. The professors may well be persuaded of their own objectivity, but the rest of us, when we read that “this research was funded by the Coca-Cola Company,” will take it with more than a grain of salt.

The company’s motives for promoting exercise as the most effective answer to obesity are almost as obvious as the conclusions of the LSU study it underwrote.

Why do academics bother with such a charade? Give ’em a sackful of money, and they’ll solemnly go through all the motions of a quest for the truth. Thus, on this occasion, an astonished world is informed that too much TV doesn’t make for slender kids.

The earnest pretence is unfailingly maintained. In the news release, Pennington’s executive director even terms these entirely predictable findings “cutting-edge research.”

One day, he declares, this “could help us create universal interventions for childhood obesity.”

All together now: “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.”

James Gill’s column is jgill@theadvocate.com.