Junkfood Science: While we’re on the subject....

June 11, 2007

While we’re on the subject....

News of this new coalition of leading authorities and distinguished leaders has been promoted on the website of the American Medical Association and been greeted with considerable fanfare within the healthcare industry and the Washington political scene, while the public remains largely unaware of what’s up. But because it’s likely to impact each and every one of us in some way, this new group deserves a mention.

According to CQ HealthBeat, a coalition of 100 lawmakers, healthcare groups, pharmaceutical companies and others was recently formed to work towards reversing the obesity epidemic. It met last month to create its top priorities. First among them is to expand insurance coverage for obesity prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The other initiatives include increasing federal funding for obesity research, ensure all foods in schools meet federal dietary guidelines, reduce bad food advertising and increase it for healthy foods, increase PE in schools and “create an environment that promotes active lifestyles.”

The name of this new coaltion is the Collaborative Campaign to End Obesity (CCEO) and according to its website:

CCEO was established to bring together organizations and individuals from across an array of interests to collaborate in the fight to reverse America's costly obesity epidemic. Through engagement with and education of policymakers, public awareness initiatives and collaborative programs between and among leading stakeholders, CCEO will work to identify and facilitate the changes needed to battle obesity, perhaps the leading public health emergency facing our nation today.

Readers may already recognize the familiar earmarks of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation leadership and, indeed, the RWJF website says this “public-private collaborative” is comprised of Johnson & Johnson, as well as RWJF grant recipients, such as America’s Health Insurance Plans, ABC/Disney, the National Hispanic Medical Association, Trust for America’s Health, William J. Clinton Foundation, the American Heart Association and others. They will lobby Congress and “endorse the upcoming Farm, transportation and Medicare Bills... to promote increased support for obesity prevention research, school nutrition regulations and physical activity requirements.”

Trust for America’s Health is the group we haven’t mentioned here yet. Since 2004 it has created those annual fat report cards on the country, entitled “F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America.” Its reports itemize federal and state obesity policies, including school lunch and physical education requirements, snack taxes, obesity-related lawsuits, community design initiatives and public health programs. Its most recent report addressed the supposed need to combat perceptions that obesity is only an individual matter, rather than a “major public health concern.”

The CCEO was born at last month’s National Summit on Obesity Policy held on May 8-9th. According to Stephanie Silverman, Summit coordinator, this Summit brought together the “best and brightest leaders” and its agenda will become the central platform for the newly formed collaborative. “From three core panels — Promoting Active Lifestyles, Promoting Better Nutrition and Change in the Health Care Sector — a consensus list of policies was identified that can be translated quickly into ‘critical and realizable’ actions.”

The complete list of participants, the agenda and key presentation was published its Obesity Policy Report, made available at the AMA and its own websites.

Ms. Silverman said the notable opening speakers included Senator Tom Harkin (as reported here), along with Senator Lisa Murkowski from Arkansas, and Dr. Mehmet Oz (of Oprah fame). A 15-year old girl who created her own obesity initiative joined the panel.

Off to a dubious start with this odd cast, the key presentation was given by Morgan Downey, executive vice president of NAASO, the Obesity Society, funded primarily by weight loss pharmaceutical companies. After reviewing the growth of the obesity panic; obesity-related coverage by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and private insurers; FDA’s proposed new guidelines for diet drug developers to facilitate approval; Weight Watcher inclusion in Medicaid programs; and development of NCQA obesity measures, he went on to policy recommendations.

These enormously costly programs will be our taxpayer dollars at work, as well as have weighty influences into medical care:

· Expand obesity research at the National Institutes of Health, USDA, Dept. of Defense, VA and CDC

· Create a National Institute of Obesity Research at NIH to focus research, translational research, prevention, pediatrics, health care economics — similar to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

· Promote the creation of an Obesity Medicine specialty

· Encourage development of “obesity educators” similar to certified disease educators

· Expand obesity prevention programs to target college age poulations, pregnant mothers and fathers

· Support increases in bariatric surgery technology

· Support fast tracking pharmaceuticals to treat obesity

· Impose surcharges on obese person’s health insurance premiums to incentivize weight loss

· Incorporate employer wellness programs into federal health plans and benefit programs

· Cover obesity drugs in Part D of Medicare; and cover bariatric surgery, diet drugs and counseling under Medicaid, Va and Dept. of Defense programs

· Establish employment anti-discrimination protection for obese individuals and eliminate healthcare discrimination

That last one, while giving the perception of advocacy for fat people, does not make this agenda advocating for the benefit of fat people.

He concluded by outlining how obesity increases disability and is a $600 million epidemic, and that bariatric surgery is “one of most powerful interventions in all of modern medicine: resolves multiple chronic diseases,” yet health insurers need to be convinced to cover it.

CQ HealthBeat says the coalition plans to have a program to educate lawmakers about the issue of obesity and by the end of the month, name an executive director and begin organizational meetings. The CCEO website, however, notes it’s already actively lobbying for legislation meeting RWJF priorities.

Just thought you’d want to know.

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