Wednesday, April 04, 2007

$500 million to fight obesity

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation just announced a $500 million, 5 year initiative to fight childhood obesity in the U.S.

The Foundation has a track record on major public health issues - most notably, perhaps, on anti-smoking awareness, campaigns, legislation, and legal action. Joel Fleishman points to RWJF's work against tobacco as one of the success stories in his book, The American Foundation. Allan Brandt's incredible book, The Cigarette Century is a fantastic examination of how "big tobacco" fought (and won, for decades) to keep its products in the cultural mainstream. And how that shifted to the point where towns across the globe compete for the most restrictive anti-smoking laws, and even avid anti-tobacco campaigners worry about this shift from a health debate to a moral debate.

The book also points out how, even with the enormous inroads against tobacco use and cigarette advertising in the US, American tobacco companies sell more cigarettes now than ever before. How? They've shifted their marketing focus, and used their lobbying prowess in shaping American trade policy, to Africa, Asia and Latin America. How "successful" has this been? Check this out for an indicator ---
"The World Health Organization now predicts 1 billion deaths over the next hundred years; ten times as many as died in the 20th century."
One of the fascinating points in Brandt's book deals with the way the legal actions against tobacco companies resulted in making an enormous repository of corporate information now available for public perusal. He claims that the 40 million+ pages of industry material constitute the largest public archive on corporate behavior, ever.

How will the fight against obesity play out? How will it intersect with other disease-specific public health actions? With food labeling efforts? Physical activity? Corporate responsibility? International trade? The organic food movement, anti-GMO efforts, and sustainable agriculture efforts? And what will be the unintended consequences - if the effort is successful in the U.S. - for other parts of the globe, other U.S. populations, other industries?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Among the outcomes (and leveraging of additional investment) that I hope the RMJF foundation (and those who apply ) would look for/document are processes that impact not only human health but also the "civic health" of the communities involved and their capacity to sustain local ability to increase social capital,train new leadership and create culture change. Our understanding (by health promotion advocates/practioners/researchers) of how our American democracy functions (and its role in creating change)needs to be integrated into this opportunity- PHIL