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Doing Something About Obesity - Even If It’s Wrong With federal money, Boston hopes a soda tax will stop a dangerous runaway train.

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Obesity is growing faster than any previous public health issue our nation has faced. At $147 billion a year in economic costs, overweight and obesity are epidemic and expensive. According to Emory University health care economist Kenneth Thorpe, at current trends, obesity will cost the nation $344 billion annually by 2018. Add diabetes to obesity and you get diabesity at an economic cost today of $300 billion.

According to the Boston Globe, Thorp’s data has obesity-related costs in Massachusetts climbing from $1.4 billion in 2008 to $5.8 billion in 2018. In response, like other cities, Boston health officials are considering a controversial tax or ban on sugary soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages sold in city-owned property.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public health, though Massachusetts is one of the least obese states in the nation, over 30 percent of Massachusetts students in grades 1 thru 10 are overweight or obese. (Obesity is especially concentrated in urban districts such as Lawrence and Boston – double the rate of Brookline and 5 times the rate in Arlington, MA.)

Why is Boston taking action against obesity now? According to a report at, Boston received a $12.5 million federal stimulus grant promising to “decrease consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages through counter-advertising and policy change.’’

As reported in, Bill Walczak, head of Codman Square Health Center and a supporter of the ban or tax on soda, said, “Somebody has to take a stand, and if it isn’t the government and health care institutions leading the way to a healthier lifestyle, who’s going to do it?”

But isn’t that how we got into this mess in the first place? In 1980, amidst controversy and without definitive scientific proof, the federal government issued the first ever low fat Dietary Guidelines for Americans. A heavily lobbied and hapless federal government – charged with doing something – endorsed the American Heart Association’s low fat diet, in effect, conducting a massive nutritional experiment on the American people.

Obesity is a runaway train because – for thirty years – the federal government has said don’t eat fat. Instead, we began consuming excess sugar, excess corn syrup, excess flour – excess carbohydrates. The proposed 2010 Dietary Guidelines – to be released in December – emphasize carbohydrates – sugar is a carbohydrate – and say it’s perfectly okay to eat up to 25 percent of our calories as sugar!

Afraid of fat, we have become the fattest nation on earth. Now the federal government – the biggest sugar pusher of all – is giving Massachusetts $12.5 million to discourage the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages! Once again, this sounds like doing something – even if it’s wrong.

(In her testimony, found in the transcripts of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee meetings, Dr. Joanne Slavin, Professor from the University of Minnesota, serving as Carbohydrate Chair, reaffirmed that it is perfectly okay to consume up to 25 percent of our calories as sugar. Also, Dr. Slavin declined to single out high fructose corn syrup as a “bad carbohydrate.”)    

With the same arguments used by Professor Slavin, whose nutrition department at the University of Minnesota has received millions in financial support from corn-syrup-maker Cargill, American Beverage Association spokesman Chris Gindlesperger opposes any action by the city of Boston. Gindlesperger said, “Outright bans do nothing to teach people about balance and moderation. It’s overly simplistic and inaccurate to target one product or one ingredient when it comes to obesity.”

No – but for thirty years – its been perfectly okay for the federal government and Big Food Company advertising to single out cholesterol and saturated fat as the causes of heart disease and obesity!

Yes, when the 2010 Dietary Guidelines are released in December, we will have five more years of sugary cereals and breakfast pastry served in schools and nursing homes across the country – we will have a WIC Program (women with infant children) dumping sugary cereals and high-sugar fruit juices on those poorest Massachusetts children living in the cities of Lawrence and Boston.

And, even with bloated federal give-away money, cities like Boston cannot stop obesity as long as the federal government’s “low fat” Dietary Guidelines remain the low fat law of the land – and as long as lobbying groups like the American Beverage Association can defend their economic turf spending millions to ensure that the official Dietary Guidelines do not tell the truth about sugar, corn syrup, flour and other dangerous food components and additives.

(To read more about the failed 2010 Dietary Guidelines, please go to

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