Where’s my sense of humor?

Being the spokesperson for an organization has always been one of the most exciting parts of my career. I truly do care about the cause of obesity and take pride in speaking on behalf of the OAC. With that said, I am always skeptical of on-air interviews, as you never know what you’re going to get.

A perfect example of this is an interview I did earlier this week with a radio station. The radio station contacted me wanting to discuss the latest report on “obesity and its impact on the U.S.” I was excited to do this, because getting the word out about this disease is crucial.

For those of you who have never been interviewed on a radio show, you (the interviewee) typically call-in about two to three minutes ahead of time and are then patched into the show, but you cannot speak. Essentially, you hear them teeing up the interview for a few moments.

For this interview, I called in, introduced myself to the producer and was patched through. While waiting for the host, they began playing a parody song about “big butts.” Immediately, I knew where this was going. “James Zervios is on the phone with us today. James, so let me ask you. Are you skinny or fat?” At this point, I find myself at a crossroads. Do I address the song or do I answer the question? In the interest of MAYBE turning this around, I answer the question by saying, “I am of normal weight.” To which the host says, “Normal weight, OK.” He then proceeded to ask me, “What is the solution to obesity?” I explained that, “obesity a complex issue and there really isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all approach…” “Blah, blah, blah, that’s the same rhetoric we’ve heard,” answers the host.

From the opening parody song to the host’s lack of willingness to listen, my fear is confirmed. This is not a serious interview about a serious subject. This is the “funny guy” morning show host “loosely” chatting about “fat” – not weight, but fat.

Here is the major problem with combating obesity – bias. With 93 million Americans affected by obesity and nearly half predicted to be affected as well within two decades, we STILL do not take it seriously. Media still thinks it’s funny to have parody songs and use stock photography of someone’s lower torso (especially a shot from behind). We know bias exists in all settings, but media/entertainment has the power to capture mass audiences at one time and make a difference. Instead, we get parody songs and a lack of real journalism.

Now, I am not saying ALL journalism behaves this way. I’ve done hundreds of interviews on obesity with respected radio show hosts, journalists, etc. that all covered the subject with sensitivity, respect and integrity. The fact is that for those media representatives who are using parody songs about fat or think it’s funny to mock obesity, YOU NEED TO STOP. It’s not funny. It’s not captivating. It’s not helping.

Thousands of news articles were printed this week on the heels’ of a recent CDC report on obesity. If an obesity report warrants THAT kind of media attention, then shouldn’t it also warrant some seriousness as well?

Think about it…


2 Comments for this Post
  • dan french
    May 10, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    I don’t know, I think in some ways this idea that all talk about obesity must be serious misses the point. As a human phenomenon — especially a body-related phenomenon — weight is going to be approached from every vantage point we’ve got, including comedy, tragedy, science, religion, etc. It’s a given that some people — i.e., morning dj’s — aren’t going to be very deft with their comedy, but, then, a lot of “serious” people aren’t going to be very deft with their seriousness, either.

    I’m not saying you needed to jump in and play the comedy game with this guy if that’s not your thing, but taking the stance that weight and it’s complicated issues are sacrosanct, and can only be talked about in tragic, dramatic, or serious tones, unnecessarily limits the discussion, and also makes you seem unable to see the “full range” of the obesity issue, to keep it human, to authentically communicate about it, while still maintaining how important it is that we work to make real strides to fix it.

    Thinks me.

    • oacjames
      May 10, 2012 at 2:23 pm


      Thank you for your input. The topic of obesity can be presented in many different ways. I’ve seen healthcare professionals take the “funny” approach, the “sarcastic” approach, the “serious” approach and more. In this case, the radio station sought out the OAC for an interview regarding the CDC’s recent study (a serious study that prompted media stories from New York to Los Angeles in every major newspaper). Having a parody song open the interview for this type of subject matter is in poor taste.

      I’ve never heard a morning show host use a parody song for diabetes, cancer, etc. or any other disease. Yet, we, as a society, seem to think that obesity is fair-game when it comes to making fun of it. Obesity is the last acceptable form of discrimination.

      The point I am trying to make is that if media across the U.S. found the latest information on obesity to be important enough to feature on every front page, every Web site, every evening newscast, then maybe other media should follow-suit and mature a little bit. Obesity is a serious issue, and it’s about time that we all, including media, realize this.

      Thank you for your comments.

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