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War and Profit —

January 12, 2012

All wars are fought for money.
— Socrates

Make wars unprofitable and you make them impossible.
— A. Philip Randolph

The most successful war seldom pays for its losses.
— Thomas Jefferson

In 1996, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop declared War on Obesity and issued a series of guidelines through the health organization he founded in 1994, Shape Up America (SUA). The guidelines “advise[d] doctors to intervene if a patients BMI is 27 or greater.”

When SUA was founded, Jenny Craig, Slim•Fast, Weight Watchers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Campbell Soup, the Heinz Foundation, Time Magazine and the Kellogg Company each pledged $1 million to the campaign.

For its 2001 conference on Diabesity® (a term SUA coined and trademarked in 2000), they received sponsorships from Aventis (manufacturers of the drug rimonabant, which was rejected by the FDA in 2007 for serious side effects, including suicidal ideation), Kellogg Company, NatraTaste (a “zero calorie sweetener”), Ortho-McNeil (makers of the antiseizure drug Topomax, which is also an off-label weight loss drug… in 2010, Ortho-McNeil was forced to pay an $81 million fine for paying kickbacks to doctors to prescribe Topomax for weight loss), Ross Nutrition (a nutrition supplement company, now Abbott Nutrition), Tanita Corporation of America Inc. (makers of digital scales), Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc. (a medical device company that supplies laproscopic devices for weight loss surgery), and Novartis Nutrition (the second largest manufacturer of “oral medical nutrition products” behind Abbott, and now a subsidiary of Nestlé).

Since its inception, the War on Obesity has been waged hand-in-hand with war profiteers.

After former Surgeon General Richard Carmona reinvigorated the War on Obesity with his March 2004 address on childhood obesity, we have seen the nation’s public health institute play fast and loose with statistics to present as dire a case for funding that war.

(For a fully-cited timeline of the CDC’s infamous over-estimation of deaths due to obesity, see the timeline at the end of this post).

But as they say, in war, truth is the first casualty.

So, I’m not surprised in the least that Strong4Life has not been exactly straight-forward in its unsubstantiated claim that “75% of Georgia parents with overweight kids don’t recognize the problem.”

I’m also not surprised that 24 hours after Strong4Life’s Twitter account said this

… they have yet to provide the research background that is the very basis of their claims that a shock and awe shame campaign is needed to “get the attention” of the parents of fat children by raising billboards with photos of their children above fat jokes like this one.

Now, I have a major problem with this line of attack. Because of these billboards, fat children who go to a buffet with their parents will have complete strangers judging the child and their parents. Maybe some will even comment on the fact that these reprehensible parents have taken their poor, neglected fat child to a buffet, where they will gorge on sweetmeats and pastries. God forbid that child has actually seen these billboards because then he will be completely and utterly aware that the eyes of complete strangers are upon him.

Nevermind that in the exact same buffet, a thin family with a thin child go completely unnoticed because it is assumed that they are able to control themselves properly. The same message was sent this past week on “The Biggest Loser” when contestants about crapped their pants at the news that they would be visiting a grocery store. It seems fat people can’t even go grocery shopping without losing all control of themselves.

I have two children, one thin and one chubby. The thin one eats like a bird, literally, as in she probably eats half her weight in food each day, while we have to coax the chubby one into eating much at all. This is due to the reality of divergent metabolisms and their natural consequences on both appetite and activity levels. So, if I take them to a buffet, the assumptions a stranger might make about my daughters would be wrong. But that won’t stop them from judging.

And this epidemic of assumptions hurts children. Why?

Because thin children with high metabolisms can eat junk food and play video games all day long, develop insulin resistance, and require medical attention, yet society will give that child a free pass at the buffet or McDonalds. Or, if you’re the daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, the press will coo over photos of you eating, then dropping, an ice cream cone the size of your head.

Fat kids are expected to be on perpetual diet mode, and any deviation is subject to judgment, either from family, friends, strangers or a completely misguided and inhumane advertising campaign.

But if we are going to shame fat kids and fat parents for eating at buffets, why not shame buffets for providing so much good food at such inexpensive prices, as to entice uncontrollable fatties into their greasy clutches?

One of the advantages of being an inexhaustible pseudo-journalist is that I have had the fortune to turn up some interesting early versions of the Strong4Life ad campaign. I was greatly intrigued when I came across this early version of the ad above.*

“Wow,” I thought. “Way to go after one, of many, corporate entities that supposedly contributes to childhood obesity epidemic.”

Then I began to wonder why this early version never made it to the billboard.

After scouring the internet in search of an answer, I found it.

Turns out, Golden Corral, the $200 million buffet chain with 485 locations nationwide, has donated $25,000 to Children’s Hospital of Atlanta. Likewise, CHOA has accepted over $375,000 in donations from such food and beverage producers of questionable nutritional value, as Waffle House, Boardwalk Fresh Burgers and Fries, Dairy Queen, IHOP, Golden State Foods, Kraft Foods, Pepsi and Panera Bread (I love Panera Bread, but have you ever looked at the nutrition info for some of their salads? Whew!)

And over $145,000 of those donations come from one of four Coca-Cola entities or distributors.

I realize that non-profit hospitals rely on donations such as these in order to serve the public, but exactly how much of that money comes with the stipulation that any public anti-obesity campaigns refrain from pointing the finger at Coke or Waffle House or Golden Corral?

It makes me wonder if fat kids could scrape together $375,000 to donate to CHOA, would Strong4Life still be attacking them?

Next week, we will turn our attention to these corporate sponsors. CHOA has already been feeling the pressure, as their Twitter account has gone silent since yesterday and they’ve had a hard time breaking through the messages of shame you all have delivered to their Facebook group in response to their banning me. (I had planned to create an image file of the thread, but you seriously need to visit for yourself… it’s HUGE!).

With that in mind, it is time to aim even higher with our message. We’ve heard from Dan Savage, we’ve heard from the National Eating Disorders Association, we’ve heard from the Obesity Action Coalition, we’ve heard from Bitch Magazine. Now we want to take this to the top, where it all began.

I want you to contact the office of the Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin, who seems to be a supporter of Health at Every Size. I don’t believe that Dr. Benjamin would support the shaming tactics of Strong4Life, and we need to ask her directly to help us put an end to these horrible advertisements.

Call the Surgeon General’s Communications Director, Mary Beth Bigley, at 202 205 5642, or email her at marybeth.bigley@hhs.gov, and ask her nicely if Dr. Benjamin can issue a statement repudiating these ads.

Next, I want you to check out this Twitter feed for an organization that is helping Strong4Life.** They’re called Scarred4Life and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by their tweets.

And finally, I need you to keep calling CHOA and letting them know that you do not support their bullying tactics. But today, let’s try something different.

You know this cheer: “We’ve got spirit, yes we do. We’ve got spirit, how about you?”?

When you call today, let’s sing, “We love fat kids, yes we do. We love fat kids, how about you?”

Don’t worry, I’ve already done it, so I’ve done the embarrassing ground work. Let’s tell CHOA just how much we love our fat children and that we will not let our kids be collateral damage in the War on Fat any more.

Linda Matzigkeit (doing interviews in defense of the billboards)
Vice President of CHOA
404 785 7824 (This is the number for Kim, her admin)
linda.matzigkeit@choa.org

Stephanie Walsh (doing interviews in defense of the billboards)
Medical Director of CHOA
404 785 6104 (This is the number for Janet, her admin)
stephanie.walsh@choa.org

Kevin McClelland (who they direct you to for complaints about the billboards)
Public Relations Director for CHOA
404 785 7600
kevin.mcclelland@choa.org

Children’s Foundation
404-785-4483
choagiving@choa.org

And, of course, sign the Change.org petition.

Timeline

On March 2, 2004, then-Surgeon General Richard Carmona renewed the War on Obesity with a statement on ravages of childhood obesity.

On March 10, 2004, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claiming that 400,000 annual deaths were attributable to “poor diet and physical inactivity.” Newspapers report that these estimates are due to “overweight and obesity.”

On June 3, 2004, at an obesity summit, Carmona declares, “As we look to the future and where childhood obesity will be in 20 years… it is every bit as threatening to us as is the terrorist threat we face today. It is the threat from within.”

On January 19, 2005, the CDC released a revised estimate of 365,000 annual deaths due to “poor diet and physical inactivity.” Again, the media reports this as deaths due to “overweight and obesity.”

On April 20, 2005, Dr. Katherine Flegal released estimates of annual deaths due to body size (rather than “poor diet and physical inactivity”) and found that while 112,000 deaths were attributable to obesity, a negative mortality rate of 86,000 deaths was associated with overweight, making a combined mortality rate of 26,000 deaths.

On June 3, 2005, Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the CDC and co-author of the two reports with significantly higher results, held a press conference where she told reporters, “It is not okay to be overweight. People need to be fit, they need to have a healthy diet, they need to exercise. I’m very sorry for the confusion that these scientific discussions have had.”

On June 14, 2005, the CDC issues a statement accepting Flegal’s results as the most accurate.

*Okay, it’s a photoshop, but you get my point.
**It’s not me, though. I swear it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 12, 2012 2:53 pm

    Tomorrow, I will address the question I keep seeing from supporters of Strong4Life, like this comment from their Facebook page.

    “I am seeing many posts calling out the shameful ways of this campaign. To those that are/were battling obesity and find this shameful, I ask what would have worked. It’s an obvious epidemic, the goals of S4L are genuine, yet I see lots of talk of the problems with few alternative solutions.”

    Tomorrow, I will propose multiple solutions, all of which require very little in the way of changing what organizations such as Strong4Life are already doing.

    Peace,
    Shannon

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