The leading group trying to convince politicians that food is an “addictive substance” like drugs is Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Led by longtime “Twinkie tax” proponent Kelly Brownell (until he moves to Duke’s School of Public Policy in July), the Rudd Center tries to establish “food addiction” as a real thing to get regulators, legislators, and trial lawyers to punish companies that make foods and beverages that people like. Center benefactor Leslie Rudd’s wines exempted, naturally.
But the Rudd Center has another aim, too. The New York Times reported in 2006, near the time that the Center was founded, that the group has a mission to fight so-called “weight bias,” and that addressing it was a “passion” of said winemaking benefactor Rudd. In the Rudd Center’s dream, “weight bias” causes people to see consumer choice advocates as bigots, convinces people of “food addiction,” and leads to taxes, bans, and trial judgments.
Today, we find that that might not be the case at all. In fact, classifying people as “food addicts” might make weight stigmas worse. This seems obvious when you think about it—drug abusers are among the least admired people in society, so declaring the obese basically drug abusers doesn’t put them in esteemed company.
The Rudd Center tries to spin their notion that expectations of personal responsibility are the real problem, but that is completely backwards. We won’t help people slim down by declaring that a donut is a drug and the consumer is a listless addict. As a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York recently noted, “Part of any empowerment process means owning up to what’s really happening and accepting some responsibility for what we do.”
Rhetoric about a food addiction theory that Cambridge University scientists say has “several fundamental shortcomings” stands in the way of owning up to the small, personal choices that can lead to energy imbalance and the changes that can correct it. The question is, when will those smarty-pants academics accept reality?