Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Schwarzenegger's Bully Pulpit: Muscle Magazines

Schwarzenegger's Bully Pulpit: Muscle Magazines

Published: July 16, 2005
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the writer, has many voices.

In his monthly editorials for the bodybuilding magazines Muscle & Fitness and Flex, Mr. Schwarzenegger is cheerleader-in-chief for the sport. He plays the motivator, scolding layabouts. He serves as personal trainer, offering detailed workout plans. And he is a fierce defender of nutritional supplements, which provide the lion's share of the magazines' advertising revenue.

That last identity landed Mr. Schwarzenegger, whose day job is governor of California, in the middle of a political tempest this week, after revelations that he stood to make at least $5 million over five years for his work as executive editor for the magazines. Critics are accusing Mr. Schwarzenegger of a conflict of interest because his contract tied his compensation to the magazines' advertising revenues and the governor vetoed a bill last year that sought to restrict the use of performance-enhancing supplements among high school students.

On Friday, Mr. Schwarzenegger announced that he would end his financial arrangement with the magazines. A spokesman for the magazines said they expected his column to continue.

Mr. Schwarzenegger began contributing the monthly editorials after he was named executive editor in March 2004. He has long been closely associated with the two magazines, having appeared on their covers 50 times since 1968 and often contributing advice columns.

The magazines, to the average, weightlifting-averse person, are an undifferentiated riot of ripped men and women, with Brobdingnagian muscles and bulging veins. But they are distinct publications. Muscle & Fitness, with articles like "Six-Pack Attack: Shirtless By Summer," is for the weight-lifting enthusiast. Flex appeals to the hard-core bodybuilder, as articles like "Sickest Ever Leg Workout: Train 'til You Puke" make clear.

Mr. Schwarzenegger's presence is a huge selling point for the magazines, which are owned by American Media. But he is not your typical columnist, sending in 700 words or so of polished prose each month. Instead he speaks on the phone to two men who have known him and his training philosophy for decades: either Vincent Scalisi, the president of Weider Publications' enthusiast group and the editor in chief of Muscle & Fitness, or Peter McGough, the editor in chief of Flex. They write a draft, send it to the governor, he tweaks and then dispatches an approved copy, said Mr. Scalisi. The columns are essentially the same.

The columns share the folksy, conversational tone Mr. Schwarzenegger uses in speaking engagements. He writes off bodybuilders who go without water as "losers." And he tells those who moan about not having the time to go to the gym, "I'm tired of excuses."

But beyond the taskmaster persona he assumes in doling out advice about using cables and working fast-twitch muscle fibers, he can sound almost like a new-age guru. "The human mind and body are so closely connected that you'll never be able to achieve your desired fitness goals without harnessing the power of your mental energies," he wrote.

He also warns of the grave dangers of anabolic steroids. Nutritional supplements, however, are a different matter.

The magazines are dominated by advertisements for dietary supplements like Vitargo-CGL, urging readers to "get huge," "look massive," and "be freaky."

These products - and their safety - are a matter of intense debate. Bill Gurley, professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said that there was little definitive research into the effects of the combination of hundreds of ingredients in some of the products.

Some products make claims based on "very, very scanty medical evidence," Mr. Gurley added. And, he said, some of the latest data show adverse changes in cardiovascular results. "By standing behind these types of products, it cheapens the magazines' credibility," Mr. Gurley added.

The editors defend the advertisements. "From our perspective, a very informed, first-hand perspective, these products are used regularly, used safely and used effectively," Mr. Scalisi said.

Mr. Schwarzenegger has been outspoken about how important they were to his progress in the 1960's and 1970's, and about how he will climb the barricades in their defense and fight against steroids. In the June issue of Muscle & Fitness, he wrote, "our mission must be to enlighten the uninformed to the differences between the two and ultimately protect the kind of right America's forefathers wrote into our Constitution: the freedom of choice."