Video: Government's Role in Combating Obesity

House Committee Government Reform and Oversight
June 3, 2004

"In a hearing entitled 'The Supersizing of America: The Federal Government's Role in Combating Obesity and Promoting Healthy Living', witnesses testified regarding obesity in the United States, the role of the government in combating obesity, and medical conditions related to obesity. Among the topics addressed were junk food taxes, additional food labeling requirements, exercise opportunities, and revised nutrition guidelines."

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This piece discusses growing medical research which suggests that high intake of carbohydrates and not fat is the culprit of America's obesity problem. Jameson gives a clear and concise overview of how the body digests food and burns calories, and then explains various studies which demonstrate that a low-carb diet does not have adverse effects on health.

According to this article, the controversy between low-carb and low-fat diets may be disappearing. The American Diabetes Association suggests that both diets promote effective weight loss, but the effectiveness of each can vary depending on the individual. This article goes on to say that weight loss is often most successful if an individual can faithfully maintain...

Noting that the dietary guidelines set by the government are generally adhered to by the public, Robert Wright wonders if the guidelines are really a recipe for good health. Wright believes that every individual has a different genetic makeup, and as such, responds...

This piece examines what is behind weight loss levels of obese patients following the low-carb Atkins diet. Studies suggest that much of the Atkins diet weight loss occurs in the first six months of the diet. The authors of this piece admit that the Atkins diet has been...

"Fans of convenience store hot dogs will get to read how many calories are in a dog. But beer drinkers won't have to deal with the guilt.

The Obama administration Friday issued proposed rules that vendors must follow to inform customers about calorie counts of a range of foods—from a Big Mac to a brownie.

Many food sellers are exempt, and for now the new regulations, which are...

As the title suggests, food limitation is not necessarily the key to weight reduction. According to Bernard Gutin, a certain study shows evidence that "trying to limit ... [a child's] energy intake may run counter to the biological demands of growth." Gutin...

In this piece, Patrick Basham and John Luik look at a variety of studies behind the common claim that obesity and cancer are related. Their findings suggest that more often than not, cancer cases are unrelated to the presence of obesity. This article also discusses the...

In this piece, Aleks Karnick reports on a Journal of American Medicine report which suggests that the growth of childhood obesity has stagnated. According to Karnick, "[a]nalysts say the study ... shows individuals' personal...

"In line with its previous commitments to balanced nutrition, the Los Angeles school board voted Tuesday to implement one of the largest and most comprehensive food procurement polices of any school district."

This article presents the results of a study which compared weight loss rates of people on low-fat diets and low-carb diets. Both groups experienced similar weight loss, but the low-carb group also experienced better blood pressure results. These results...

This article reports on a study presenting "'data [which] implicate[s] dietary carbohydrate rather than fat as a more significant nutritional factor contributing to inflammatory processes.'" According to this piece, the medical community generally accepts...

This article reports on the Medicare policy on obesity. Before 2004 the Medicare program referred to obesity as "a personal failure," but now Medicare refers to obesity as "a medical problem" and is open to paying for "anti-obesity treatment."...

"New Yorkers have been in the throes of sticker shock since this spring when the Big Apple became the first city in the country to implement a law forcing chain restaurants to post the calorie count of each food in the same size and font as the price.

Restaurants have not exhausted their legal challenges, but the city will start fining violators up to $2,000 beginning Friday, say...

"If New York City bans big sodas, what's next on the list? Large slices of pizza? Double-scoop ice cream cones? Tubs of movie-theater popcorn? The 16-ounce strip steak?

The proposed crackdown on super-sized drinks could face a legal challenge from those who oppose the first-in-the-nation rule and fear the city isn't going to stop with beverages.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to...

"Since first lady Michelle Obama made childhood obesity her signature project almost two years ago, the issue has had the kind of highly visible national leadership that it previously lacked.

But that isn't enough, say public health leaders frustrated with the slow progress in stemming America's obesity epidemic.

Something more ambitious is needed, they argue — something more...

According to Paul John Scott, the recent government dietary guidelines continue to promote dietary nonsense. Scott believes that the "calories-in, calories-out" method of weight management is ill-...

As John Calfee explains, the idea of new soda consumption taxes is to alleviate budget woes and lower obesity rates. This interesting claim is fiction, Calfee declares, for a large variety of research demonstrates that increasing soda taxes simply encourages individuals to indulge in...

According to Williams and Christ, "[p]olicymakers think they have found a magic pill of sorts to cure obesity: excise taxes." This article seeks to persuade readers that taxes on items like soft drinks...

Commenting on a study linking suburban...

"Banning extra-large sugary sodas. Blocking fast-food restaurants in some neighborhoods. Requiring calorie counts on menus. Kicking snack foods out of public schools. Are anti-obesity campaigns crossing the line into nanny state intrusion?"

According to J. T. Winkler, the flaw in obesity research is in the fact that no researcher can be absolutely sure if the study subjects are accurately reporting their food intake. Winkler explains that many diet studies are plagued by subjects who - either intentionally...

According to Basham and Luik, the idea that "we're getting fatter each year" is not necessarily true. The authors cite two studies from early 2010 which suggest that the percentage of obese people has not really changed in recent decades. This piece concludes by...

Tracing the history of the United States dietary guidelines, this article suggests that the official dietary recommendations of the last century have been politically motivated and not based on solid research. This article also describes the various changes...

This brief article notes the success of the Atkins diet when matched up against three other weight loss diets. According to this piece, researchers from Stanford compared four diets and found that people on the low-carb...

According to this piece, weight gain and loss could actually be more complicated than people realize due to its relation to an individual's genetic composition. This information accounts for the effectiveness variation often seen amongst weight loss diets...

Chart or Graph

Despite this massive increase in overweight and obesity among the poor, federal feeding programs still operate under their nearly half-century-old objective of increasing food consumption. Few experts are willing to say that federal feeding programs are making the poor fat, although the evidence points in that direction.

The criterion for defining obesity (i.e., BMI of 30 kg/m2) was selected principally on the basis of the strong relation between BMI and mortality, shown in Figure 2.

In a comparison of Food Stamp recipients to Non-Food Stamp recipients, the above charts demonstrate that the former do have higher levels of obesity. "Shown in figures 5 and 6 for low-income males and low-income females, respectively, the prevalence of obesity tends to increase over time.

"Ideological battles are currently playing out at both the state and federal levels as regulators seek an appropriate balance between private liberty and public health. Table 1 lists the key regulatory targets and tools."

In the analysis in which base-line values were carried forward in the case of missing values, the group on the low-carbohydrate diet had lost significantly more weight than the group on the conventional diet at 3 months (P=0.001) and 6 months (P=0.02), but the difference in weight loss was not statistically significant at 12 months (P=0.26) (Table 2 and Fig. 1A).

There are large differences between nations in their use of active transportation and obesity rates (Figures 2 and 3). European countries that rely heavily on walking and cycling have lower rates of obesity. In contrast, the United States, Australia, and Canada demonstrate extreme automobile dependence and have the highest rates of obesity.

The policies of school districts have been criticized for contributing to what researchers describe as a 'toxic environment' for children ... about 60 percent of U.S. middle schools and high schools sell soft drinks from vending machines on campus.

Some states ... have attempted to improve nutrition and fitness beyond the school gates (Fig. 2) ... by creating safe and attractive places to enjoy outdoor exercise. Another, more controversial approach is to tax junk foods, typically by excluding them from the general exemption of foods from state sales taxes.

This graphic demonstrates the growth of obesity in the last decade of the twentieth century. In ten years, a large number of states experienced around a ten percent jump in their obesity rates.

Although young adults (18–29 years ...) have lower prevalence of obesity (24%) compared with persons 30 years and over (31%–41%), it is noteworthy that the proportion of young adults who are obese has more than tripled from 8% in 1971–1974 to 24% in 2005–2006 (Figure 7), while in most other adult age groups the prevalence doubled during that time period.

Analysis Report White Paper

This paper reports on the results of a study which examined weight loss differences between low-carb diets and low-fat diets. The study took place over the course of a year, and at the end of the year, more participants on the low-carb diet were still a part of the study.

This work by Forsythe et al. reports on a comparison of low-fat and low-carb diets over a twelve week period. While neither group lost excessive weight, the report does find that those on a low-carb diet lost more and generally saw greater benefits in health variables.

In this study, researchers compared the effects of two low-carb diets with two low-fat diets. Their results suggested that the Atkins diet produced the best weight loss effects within one year.

This piece discusses the widely touted American obesity numbers and how those numbers happened to evolve. Balko admits that obesity is harmful to the health of Americans, but he believes that the matters of eating and exercise should be left in the hands of individuals and not regulated by the government.

As the title suggests, this report frames the obesity epidemic as an issue that must be dealt with through public health/public policy measures. This report covers obesity statistics, obesity related programs and initiatives in the last fifty years, and ways in which obesity can be combated on the public level.

In this piece, Chris Edwards describes the many food subsidy programs that exist in the federal government, including food stamps and school lunches. Edwards believes that these programs are an immense drain on the American taxpayer and are also cesspools of fraud and abuse.

"The world-wide and ongoing rise in obesity has generated enormous popular interest and policy concern in developing countries, where it is rapidly becoming the major public health problem facing such nations. As a consequence, there has been a rapidly growing field of economic analysis of the causes and consequences of this phenomenon."

Conducted by Ashlesha Datar and Nancy Nicosia, this study suggests that the ready availability of junk food in schools has little, if any, bearing on the obesity problem. Based on their findings, the authors infer that banning junk food from schools may be an unnecessary regulatory move.

This study attempts to measure the health differences between people living in urban and suburban communities. The authors conclude that the government should encourage public policy initiatives such as walking, better infrastructure design, and more mass transportation.

The authors seem to believe that more regulation is good, and give a variety of ways in which public health initiatives can intervene in the obesity crisis. However, the authors admit that regulation is an uphill battle due to the fact that people prefer to retain free speech and other rights.

The authors of this piece believe that obesity is caused by a number of different variables, some of which include genetic makeup, environment, and dietary content. Following their discussion of these variables, Wadden, Brownell, and Foster explain various obesity treatments and their success.

Drawing on the theory of evolution, this piece describes the changes in physical activity that humanity has undergone through the years. The researchers believe that the energetic, daily activity of the past produced far better health results than our current, sedentary lifestyle does today.

"Adding simple, 'traffic light' nutrition labels to the front of each food package would change consumers' buying habits, as would listing calories on menus at chain restaurants. Consumption of fattening food would be further reduced by banning its advertisement in the mass media."

This piece examines the weight differences between those who live in various types of neighborhoods, with a special interest in those who live in low-income areas or food retail dense areas. Contrary to what some might believe, people living in neighborhoods with a high level of food retail options actually have a lower BMI than those who do not.

This report offers a fun and interesting look at the countless ways in which the lives of Americans have changed over the years. Some of the possible weight gain factors that the authors advance include the increase in depression medication, the prevalence of women in the workforce, and the decrease in smoking.

Snacking is generally perceived as a bad habit which promotes more caloric intake. This study, however, finds that individuals who snacked more often were generally not in the overweight or obese category. In fact, the individuals classified as obese were less likely to snack during the day.

Charles Baum adds another factor by suggesting that the Food Stamp program could be increasing the obesity problem. This piece studies weight levels of Food Stamp participants and finds that there was a decided weight increase over time amongst those who used Food Stamps.

This paper describes how fat in food products has been replaced with fructose in recent years, and then describes why this is harmful to our bodies. Dr. Lustig believes that the dangers of fructose should be combated with more public awareness campaigns and greater regulatory measures on sugary products.

"The law of unintended consequences holds that even well intentioned policies can have adverse effects.  Just as U.S. farm policy may have helped American farmers become the most productive cultivators on the planet and contributed to low food prices across the country, America's system of crop subsidies also may be contributing to poor health. Ninety-...

"The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 (as amended) introduced many of the Farm Bill provisions that continue to the present day, including precursors to the current food and nutrition programs (FANPs). The original US food and nutrition policy served multiple purposes, including enhanced demand for farm products to help alleviate low farm income and reduce agricultural surpluses, no longer...

As the title suggests, this study compares weight loss levels of those on vegetarian diets and other weight loss programs. The researchers found that the subjects on a vegetarian diet were more likely to have a lower weight and BMI. Vegetarian dieters were also found to be more faithful to their diet than those on other diets.

This study examines obesity rates in several developed countries, while also examining active transportation rates, namely, walking and biking. The authors suggest that there could very well be a correlation between physically exerting transportation and weight levels.

In this piece, Gary Taubes discusses the controversy between low-carb diets, such as those promoted by Robert Atkins, and low-fat diets, which are commonly encouraged by places such as the American Medical Association.

As the title suggests, this piece studies the issue of whether or not bias exists in the publication of medical research related to obesity. The authors caution their fellow researchers to stick to the facts when presenting their research, even when that research might be contrary to popular opinion.

Video/Podcast/Media

"Russ Roberts talks with Darius Lakdawalla of Rand and the National Bureau of Economic Research on the economics of obesity, how much fatter are Americans and why. How much is due to the spread of fast food vs. the falling price of food and the change in the U.S. workplace?"

This video features a lively debate between low-carb diet proponent Gary Taubes, American Heart Association representative Barbara Howard, and low-fat diet proponent Dean Ornish. All three advance their views on the best way to lose weight, while debating the research that...

This clip discusses a study which suggested that obesity levels are skyrocketing among preschool aged children. Dr. Ashton discusses the various implications that increased obesity could have for American children and suggests that parents monitor their children's food intake and exercise levels more carefully.

This clip offers an audio interview with Gary Taubes, a high profile scientific journalist who reaches back into past research and hypothesizes that carbohydrates are a major contributor to weight gain, not fat. Taubes presents his ideas and their relation to the obesity epidemic in America today. The second half of this interview can be found...

"In a hearing entitled 'The Supersizing of America: The Federal Government's Role in Combating Obesity and Promoting Healthy Living', witnesses testified regarding obesity in the United States, the role of the government in combating obesity, and medical conditions related to obesity. Among the topics addressed were junk food taxes, additional food labeling...

In a lecture before the Royal Society of Arts, Michael Pollan describes the effects of the "Western Diet," namely, the excessive consumption of processed foods. Pollan believes that the increasing obesity levels in America stem from the increased sugar levels that Americans have substituted for fat....

Rather than claiming that fat and carbohydrates are the cause of today's obesity epidemic, Dr. Robert Lustig suggests that sugar or fructose is the culprit of the problem. According to Dr. Lustig, high fructose corn syrup has been substituted for fat in...

In this brief interview, author Michael Pollan answers a variety of questions about American food intake. Pollan takes the "activist" view of food intake and encourages a return to more natural methods of food production in America.

According to this news clip, the growing prevalence of obesity in America's children is causing Michelle Obama to promote the "Let's Move" initiative. Mrs. Obama seeks to use her initiative to encourage children to exercise more and eat healthier foods in school.

Primary Document

This document contains excerpts from the first edition of the United States Dietary Goals. Included in this document is testimony from George McGovern, a senator who played a major role in establishing U.S. food guidelines, as well as testimony from several other doctors who...

In the recent decades, the United States has released dietary recommendations for Americans to follow. These dietary guidelines normally revolve around such ideas as eating low-fat diets with plenty of fruits, grains, and vegetables, getting sufficient exercise, and in...

In testifying about whether or not funding should be increased for school nutrition programs, Robert Rector delves into the effects government subsidized welfare has on children and adults. According...

"Subsequently the purchasing of Good Food is a vital component to providing the nutritional needs of all children in the LAUSD."

Although he witnessed the malnutrition and hunger prevalent in the southern United States in the 1960s, Douglas Besharov believes that the government policies once implemented to help feed impoverished Americans are now contributing to their increasingly obese state. In this testimony,...

This massive volume reports on the health status of Americans in a variety of areas. The section pertaining to American obesity begins on page 50.

This court case offers an example of the obesity related lawsuits that are often brought against food corporations. In this particular case, two parents alleged that the claims of nutritious food offered...

"Therefore, I have set a goal to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight."

Testifying before Congress on the subject of America's increasingly obese population, NAASO vice-president, Thomas Wadden, encourages Congress to engage in more healthy weight-control policies. Wadden suggests that increased federal funding for obesity research and policies which would...

In this speech, David Martosko suggests that much of the commonly cited data about America's obese state is actually unfounded. Martosko believes that much of the hype behind the obesity statistics is driven by special interest groups such as...

In his testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, Surgeon General Richard Carmona declares that there are "three key factors that we must address to reduce and eliminate childhood obesity in America." Mr. Carmona describes these three factors as "1. Increased physical activity; 2. Healthier eating habits; and 3. Improved health literacy." This testimony...

"This Surgeon General’s Call To Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity calls upon individuals, families, communities, schools, worksites, organizations, government, and the media to work together to build solutions that will bring better health to everyone in this country." The document also contains a variety of charts and information on...

According to retired Major General Paul D. Monroe, the growing rate of obesity is having adverse effects on our nation's military. This is due to the fact that the weight of many Americans prevents them from...

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