Obesity and the Government

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) administers a number of programs, both hierarchically and laterally connected, that are concerned with obesity. Sadly, it seems likely that many of them will soon be on the federal government budget chopping block, if they are not already.

In February, Ashley Yeager wrote for The Scientist,

When the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was signed into law on December 22, it cut $750 million from the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF)… Today (February 9), Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed a bill that would cut $1.35 billion from the PPHF over the next 10 years, leaving the fund up to $1 billion short of its initial goal each year. And, Congress has the power to divert these remaining funds to programs outside the PPHF’s mandate.

That last sentence is particularly chilling. Even the money the agencies are left with can be taken away and used elsewhere at the discretion of the legislative branch — as has happened many times before.

What could be affected?

The CDC identifies the Spectrum of Opportunities, ways in which states and even communities can support these facilities so that best practices can be established and can flourish. Some of the issues and projects they undertake include nutrition, breastfeeding support, physical activity, and reduced screen time.

The government literature includes guidance for local activists, on how to bring together stakeholders, set priorities, and plan for action. In some cases, there is training and technical assistance. For instance, all 50 states receive funding to help them carry out a cooperative agreement, effective for five years, to reduce the chronic diseases connected with obesity.

A basic fallacy?

Budget cuts find support because the received wisdom behind current programs is too simplistic. Perhaps if the people who run things had a more nuanced concept of obesity problems the programs would gain both success and respect, and justify their existence to skeptics. As long as we stick to the energy balance paradigm the results will be the same. But if the government could acknowledge, for instance, that some products contain especially pernicious calories, a great deal more progress might be made.

Even better would be to face the fact that for many children, obesity is rooted in psychological difficulties. However, this idea faces a massive amount of resistance. Many people may not mind if their kids are weighed at school, or even if soda vending machines are removed from the campus — but they are definitely not prepared to tolerate the government doing anything that resembles messing with their kids’ minds.

As things stand, a politician who wants to spend the available money in other ways can say, “Eat less, exercise more. There, I just saved the American taxpayer millions of dollars.” The unfortunate fact is that kicking this problem down the road only leads to the development of worse and more costly problems. But by the time the future rolls around that politician will have retired, to enjoy the benefits of fully paid lifelong health care.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Cuts to Prevention and Public Health Fund Puts CDC Programs at Risk,” The-Scientist.com, 02/09/18
Source: “Spectrum of Opportunities for Obesity Prevention,” CDC.gov
Photo credit: Brett Weinstein (Nrbelex) on Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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