James N. Klapthor

In the world of television programming, one ratings point equals more than one million viewers nationally. In a television market like Chicago, home to IFT’s world headquarters, one ratings point equals 37,000 viewers. No matter how the numbers are interpreted, they show the extent that a program is being viewed.

In the world of cable television, scoring a full ratings point can be a huge coup, as only roughly 70% of the United States is outfitted for cable and satellite TV. With the fractured nature of programming spread among literally hundreds of channels, achieving ratings is a challenge—to some, maybe as challenging as standing up to a household icon like Dr. Phil.

That’s what IFT’s Roger Clemens, University of Southern California, did October 7, as seen on CNN Headline News. In response to CNN’s request for an interview, he set the record straight on health advice offered by self-help guru and daytime ratings draw Dr. Phil McGraw. Facing a lawsuit for endorsing a vitamin supplement program based largely on the approximate shape of one’s body—like a pear or an apple—Dr. Phil’s endorsement came under scrutiny. Leave it to a nutritional biochemist in the nation’s second-largest media market to set the record straight.

The idea that pear-shaped people would need specific vitamins different from apple-shaped people is unfounded, Clemens said. There’s no scientific evidence supporting the claims. Headline News ran the story early that morning, pulling less than a full ratings point but reaching an audience of more than 200,000. Later that morning, around ten o’clock, it ran the same story to more than 250,000 viewers. The topic was gathering momentum. Headline News aired the piece four more times before the end of the broadcast day.

At the same time, television stations in New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Tampa, Indianapolis, San Diego, Milwaukee, and many more cities picked up and aired Headline News’s feature. In all, no fewer than 30 different television stations around the nation aired the segment from coast to coast.

That was a lengthy TV life for the story, compared to one airing three days earlier. On October 4, Clemens and KABC-TV Ch. 7 in Los Angeles paired up to address the recent recall of Dole pre-packaged salads and the safety of such products. KABC boasts the No. 1–one rated newscast in the market—drawing a local rating of 4.2, the five o’clock newscast pulls in more than 300,000 viewers.

It is not the intent of this column to flaunt one medium or another, as print, online, and broadcast outlets all can serve the purpose of spreading food science perspective.

The September issue of New Scientist magazine, published in London, meant to get a rise out of its article on coffee and caffeine entitled "Demon drink." As it provided a brief history of caffeine in popular food products, the article begged the question: Is caffeine an addictive drug? No, said Manfred Kroger, Pennsylvania State University. "An addictive drug is something you commit a crime for," he was quoted as saying and was supported in the article by an exercise physiologist from the University of Connecticut. Kroger explained that caffeine bashers are often the same people who have a bias against processed foods, including carbonated soft drinks.

Those who disagreed with Kroger’s published comments replied in the October issue of New Scientist, proving that interacting with journalists is not a task for the thin-skinned.

New Scientist is circulated worldwide, with about 150,000 copies issued.

Closer to home, it would be difficult for a food scientist to dispute the favorable attention a Baltimore Sun article gave the profession. The September 9 article "Shell game" focused on the food chemistry of clam chowder on the Atlantic seaboard and utilized commentary from IFT Past President Herbert Stone.

"A food chemist understands the chemistry of each ingredient and how they interact," he explained. "It’s the only field of chemistry where taste, texture and color are as important as density, boiling point and other standard properties learned in a chemistry class." The quote made the front page of the article, and was highlighted in bold on its second page.

As one of America’s largest newspapers, the Tribune Co.-owned Baltimore Sun circulates about 250,000 papers daily.

by James N. Klapthor,
Media Relations Manager 
[email protected]