The politics–and profits–of weight loss

Updated
By Faiven Feshazion
AP Photo/Press-Register, Bill Starling, File

Weight loss in the United States is a multimillion-dollar industry–big enough to pay celebrity slimmers an average of $33,000 per pound lost in spokesperson deals. For the rest of the country, clear incentives are neither as easy to come by nor strong enough to combat the persuasion of those who prosper from U.S. obesity rates.

Reuters reports that since 2009, the food and beverage industry has spent more than $175 million lobbying against government regulations that aim to make Americans healthier.

Democratic strategist John Rowley is optimistic that health can still win against such a powerful adversary. “With food, you’re talking about a big piece of the economy in terms of dollars and consumers,” Rowley said. He told host Melissa Harris-Perry on Sunday that health-related laws are inevitably going to change, noting that there have been 27 recently filed lawsuits against the agri-business industry.

The 112th Congress failed to approve a new farm bill that would help fund more healthy crop subsidies. Instead, it passed a nine-month extension of the existing law. Although large sums of money will be paid to farmers for staple crops such as corn, millions are still needed to fund environmental programs and organic foods, and less on junk food additives.

As the big business vs. health discussion rages on, a new study surprisingly suggested that there is a lower mortality rate for overweight people. Thinner This Year co-author Jennifer Sacheck is skeptical about the study, saying it lacks key information. “[Body mass index] does nothing to measure fat tissue,” she said, noting how misinformed Americans are about factors that contribute to weight loss and health.

The shortfall in information is matched by a shortage of good produce.  Jacquie Berger, executive director of Just Food, said lower-income areas continue to have fewer grocery stores and less healthy options. “If you have access to fresh healthy food there’s so much more you can do in terms of nourishing yourself and your family,” she said. “There’s a tremendous history of disinvestment from grocery stores that have moved out of lower income communities deliberately as a business decision…and it’s a mistake on their part.”

Legislators need to address these issues. But as John Rowley said, “until they start being asked, you won’t see any policy changes.”

See the rest of our discussion below.

The politics--and profits--of weight loss

Updated