Another year, another Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) conference plotting obesity lawsuits. After last year’s conference we wrote, “It wouldn’t have been a conference on obesity lawsuits without John ‘Sue the Bastards’ Banzhaf.” Well, we stand corrected. Banzhaf was a no-show this year. Marion Nestle, the keynote speaker at PHAI’s first conference, was also nowhere to be found. Despite their absence, food cops aplenty kept hope of taxes and lawsuits alive.

Richard Daynard, PHAI’s driving force and the man even fellow trial lawyers label “greedy” and “mercenary,” got things started by calling the Center for Consumer Freedom’s obesity-related efforts “world class.” We’ll spare you the other adjectives he used. Daynard went on to complain that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), reportedly in the process of spending $175 million tackling obesity using the same tactics it used against tobacco, isn’t fighting as aggressively against food companies as it did against cigarette manufacturers. Perhaps Daynard is upset that RWJF hasn’t given PHAI any money just yet, as it did with Daynard’s tobacco lawsuit group.

David Ludwig, this year’s keynote speaker, recommended fat taxes, marketing restrictions, and insurance reimbursement for obesity treatment. He noted that he had a special affinity for that last suggestion, since it might benefit his own obesity clinic. When CCF asked Ludwig and fat-tax pioneer Kelly Brownell what they thought about the fact that so much obesity research is conducted by academics affiliated with the weight loss industry, they both admitted that this financial conflict of interest could influence a researcher’s conclusions. But don’t hold your breath for these noted obesity scaremongers to reverse course.

Mindy Kursban from the PETA-affiliated Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), insisted: “The dairy industry is going to go the way of big tobacco.” If you believe that, get this: milk causes osteoporosis. Or at least that’s what we heard from the PCRM.

“Junk food is the gateway drug,” a sociology professor explained at a session on marketing to children. She then acknowledged that there was no research to back up her claim. Another speaker, Harvard University professor Jon Hanson, described a fundamental biological reaction that kicks in when people perceive a threat to their freedom. The crowd didn’t need much convincing that this negative reaction to attacks on human liberty was actually a bad thing. Another attorney called food cop policies “the rational approach,” and called the pro-freedom approach “free to be a barbarian.”

When it was suggested that taking soda out of schools would lead to the “forbidden fruit” problem — our natural inclination to want what we are prevented from having — one participant recommended a “hear no snack foods and soda, see no snack foods and soda” approach. Just don’t allow kids to get anywhere them — ever. Then they won’t know what they’re missing. Meanwhile, Jon “freedom is a ruse” Hanson of Harvard responded to the issue of soda in schools by saying:

This is just one more time when we don’t know what we’re doing … it’s a really complex problem, I don’t think any of it will be solved until we get to the foundation of who we really are.

In other words, taking soda out of schools won’t make a real impact on obesity. Instead, Hanson and company think we need to completely change human nature.