AMA obesity ruling

Why the AMA’s obesity ruling is bad medicine

“The American Medical Association’s recent announcement that it regards obesity as a disease is terrible news for food companies, public health advocates, and, most of all, the very people it intends to help, obese Americans. It could ignite new wars between the food industry and its antagonists; provide destructive new tools to hardcore food activists; derail the progress that the food and restaurant industries already have made in introducing healthier and lower-calorie options; and give consumers one more reason not to care about what they consume.”

So writes Hank Cardello, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a consultant on socially responsible products and practices, and the author of Stuffed: An Insider’s Look at Who’s (Really) Making America Fat. Read on…

It’s still too early to tell how the disease badge might ultimately affect medical research, treatments, insurance payouts, and public policy, since the AMA has no legal power. But like a promising new medicine, the decision is likely to have unintended side effects.

For one, calling obesity a disease gives health activists and policymakers a new blunt instrument to use against the food industry. Food and beverage companies are already bedeviled by accusations in a 2013 bestselling book by New York Times reporter Michael Moss (Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us) that they purposely concoct addicting products. The accusations have helped revive calls for such measures as Twinkie taxes, soda cup size bans, and restrictions on full-fat pizza.

These newly ignited brushfires, fanned and fed by social media and zealous lawmakers, could cost the food and restaurant industries enormous time and money to fight. If the activists were to claim that the industries are selling products that worsen a disease called obesity, they would have no choice but to lawyer up and defend themselves.

As the decades-long tobacco wars proved, this would only greatly delay getting both parties to come to an equitable agreement. In the meantime, obesity would continue to shorten more lives, including children’s, than it should.

Moreover, new outbreaks in the food wars could divert food and restaurant companies’ resources from developing the healthier, lower-calorie foods that consumers increasingly demand.

Leading food companies have already begun shifting their product portfolios to lower-calorie items. The momentum is building as many firms have discovered that these products can boost sales and profits. In fact, a recent study by the Hudson Institute for the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a group of more than 230 major food, restaurant, retail, and other companies that have pledged to reduce the calories in their product lines, showed that lower-calorie items drove 82% of sales growth for the foundation’s consumer packaged goods members between 2006 and 2011.

That was four times the growth rate of higher-calorie products. And lower-cal offerings accounted for two-thirds of the new products that had sales of at least $50 million.

A number of food companies have already reduced their “calorie footprints,” the average calories sold per capita. The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo have cut theirs by roughly a quarter in the US in the last decade by expanding their low- and zero-calorie beverage and bottled water businesses. General Mills has improved the nutrition content of more than two-thirds of its products and commands the highest operating profit margins among its peers, according to an earlier Hudson report.

Even in the slower to change restaurant industry, lower-calorie options are boosting sales at chains like Taco Bell and the Cheesecake Factory. In short, many food companies are already moving in the right direction, cutting calories in their product lines.

They are changing their ways not only because it’s profitable but also because they have made commitments to improve their products and have struck effective working partnerships with the public health community. One example is the HWCF, whose members’ efforts trimmed 1.5 trillion calories from their products this year, three years ahead of schedule.

Another is the Partnership for a Healthier America, a coalition of businesses, health advocates, and obesity experts dedicated to reversing childhood obesity. PHA’s member companies have added vegetables to children’s menus, funded fitness programs, and opened up more places to buy healthy foods in areas of the country that lacked them. Such partnerships demonstrate how health advocates and industries should work together to solve the obesity problem. Efforts to demonize the food industry as purveyors of disease would poison this well…..

Forbes: Read the full article

Further reading:

  1. Who stands to gain or lose from the AMA’s ruling on obesity

    My first reaction last week upon hearing news that the American Medical Association has decided to classify obesity as a disease was.

  2. Can AMA Obesity Ruling Push Weight Health Coverage? – Bloomberg

    David Kirchoff, CEO at Weight Watchers, discusses the move by the American Medical Association to classify obesity as a disease and whether that means that 

  3. AMA’s obesity ruling could inspire new drug efforts – FiercePharma

    The AMA’s decision to classify obesity as a disease is a direct attempt to persuade biopharma companies to develop new therapies by making 
  4. Is obesity a disease? (thoughts on the recent AMA ruling)

    As of Tuesday, June 18th the American Medical Association (AMA) declared obesity a disease. Obesity affects one in three adults 

  5. ‘I’m obese, therefore I’m sick’? No – The Globe and Mail

    The intentions of the AMA ruling are laudable, but if one of our objectives is to diminish shaming the obese, labelling excess weight as a