When we heard that the American Medical Association (AMA) was distributing guidelines to help doctors treat obese patients, we thought it was a good idea. But then we discovered that the eight-billion-dollar Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) had funded the project. Not surprisingly, amidst the generally reasonable advice to doctors, there were some not-so-subtle signs of RWJF’s skepticism about personal responsibility in food choices.
To its credit, RWJF focuses on the physical-activity side as well as eating habits — and the AMA’s guidelines reflect this balance. But on the consumption side of the calorie equation, RWJF has shown little faith in people’s ability to make their own decisions. The academics and activists that have received RWJF funding are among the most extreme of the food cop cabal.
That includes Harold Goldstein, whose anti-soda crusade in California was financed by RWJF. And a professor whose RWJF-funded paper on public policy responses to obesity begins: “despite the enduring myths about American self-reliance, the U.S. government has a long tradition of intervening in what seems to be purely private behavior.”
True to RWJF’s form, the new AMA guidelines blame obesity on “an overabundance of energy-dense food choices,” “easy access to an abundance of calorie-dense, high-fat foods,” and “societal pressures that expose individuals to high-calorie convenience foods.” That’s the same rhetoric we hear from Twinkie-taxers like Kelly Brownell.
Seeking to fuel the fire of fat hysteria, the guidelines relied heavily on the three most commonly cited obesity statistics — all of which are just plain wrong. After reciting the familiar, flawed figures about obesity-related deaths, prevalence, and cost, the press release announcing the new guidelines quotes AMA’s president saying: “The numbers on obesity are staggering. It is clearly time to take action.” Similarly, the second paragraph of the guidelines themselves argues: “These statistics herald potentially devastating health, economic, and social consequences.”
Disturbingly, included among the many organizations that the AMA’s guidelines recommend for further information are the food nags at the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the organic-only fanatics at Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust. Meanwhile, the American Obesity Association (AOA), which wants to deny personal responsibility by labeling obesity a disease, was listed as an additional resource — as the AMA essentially endorsed their position. AMA’s guidelines complain: “Unfortunately, most managed care and additional insurance companies do not cover expenses related to weight loss.”