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I read with great interest the small item in the Washington Post this morning about how the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is spending millions to fight childhood obesity across the nation, including right here in the District. The foundation has given $400,000 to the Summit Health Institute for Research and Education, which, according to the Post, “will partner with six agencies and community groups to reduce childhood obesity in the District, with a focus on youngsters in Wards 7 and 8.”

I’d say the foundation is fighting a losing battle against the junk-food industry. Consider this recent story from U.S. News & World Report, “10 Things the Food Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know.”

Among the 10 things listed are several disheartening facts about the war on obesity, namely:

  • Companies spend billions on advertising junk food to kids: “According to the Federal Trade Commission, food makers spend some $1.6 billion annually to reach children through the traditional media as well the Internet, in-store advertising, and sweepstakes. An article published in 2006 in the Journal of Public Health Policy puts the number as high as $10 billion annually.
  • Nutrition groups are in cahoots with junk-food makers: “The American Dietetic Association, for example, accepts money from companies such as Coca-Cola, which get access to decision makers in the food and nutrition marketplace via ADA events and programs….”
  • The food industry makes questionable health claims and promotes confusing nutritional labeling: “Health claims such as “zero trans fats” or “contains whole wheat” may create the false impression that a product is healthy when it’s not. While the claims may be true, a product is not going to benefit your kid’s health if it’s also loaded with salt and sugar or saturated fat, say, and lacks fiber or other nutrients.” And this: “As [nutritionist Marion] Nestle explained in Food Politics, the food industry has a history of preferring scientific jargon to straight talk. As far back as 1977, public health officials attempted to include the advice ‘reduce consumption of meat’ in an important report called ‘Dietary Goals for the United States.’ The report’s authors capitulated to intense pushback from the cattle industry and used this less-direct and more ambiguous advice: ‘Choose meats, poultry, and fish which will reduce saturated fat intake.'”
  • The food industry fights public health initiatives through front groups: “Unless you follow politics closely, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that a group with a name like the Center for Consumer Freedom has anything to do with the food industry. In fact, [pediatrician David] Ludwig and Nestle point out, this group lobbies aggressively against obesity-related public health campaigns—such as the one directed at removing junk food from schools—and is funded, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, primarily through donations from big food companies such as Coca-Cola, Cargill, Tyson Foods, and Wendy’s.”

How on earth can $400,000 in the District begin to combat all this shit?

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