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BOOSTER SHOTS: Oddities, musings and news from the
health world

Should Obama ban photo ops with foods like burgers and fries?

May 08, 2012|By Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times/For the Booster Shots blog
  • The Obamas stop for cheesesteak sandwiches and fries in Philadelphia during the 2008 presidential campaign.
The Obamas stop for cheesesteak sandwiches and fries in Philadelphia during… (Scott Olson/Getty Images )

What could be more American than hot dogs and apple pie? Perhaps it’s no wonder that politicians spend much of their time on the campaign trail hamming it up with voters at diners, burger shacks and other eating establishments that aren’t exactly paragons of healthful fare.

But a group of doctors and activists will be calling on President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other members of the executive branch to refrain from turning calorie-laden pit stops into photo ops this election year. On Thursday, they plan to present the White House with a petition asking Obama to issue an executive order banning appearances with “carcinogenic or obesogenic foods.”

“Increasingly, the use of food in photo ops conflicts with important messages that public health officials are trying to convey in order to safeguard the health of the American public,” explains the petition from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, also known as PCRM.

As a factual matter, that’s pretty hard to dispute. Try typing “Obama eating” into a Google search box and look at the photos that pop up. There he is sinking his teeth into a slice of pizza. There he is taking a huge bite out of a cheesesteak sandwich. There he is enjoying a doughnut. There he is tucking into a plate of tacos.

[Apparently, photos of presidential noshing are quite a thing on the Internet. There are several Tumblr blogs devoted to the topic, including “Barack Obama Eating Things,” “obama eats (just like us)“ and this one devoted to pictures of POTUS eating ice cream.]

Nor can anyone seriously deny that American eating habits are taking a toll on our collective health. As my colleague Melissa Healy reported, a study published Monday by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine projects that 42% of U.S. residents will be obese by the year 2030, up from 36% today. And the health economists who did the study said 42% was actually low considering the trends of the past 30 years.

Public health experts are grappling with the consequences of all these extra pounds this week at the “Weight of the Nation” conference, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People who are obese are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other serious medical conditions. That's why Michelle Obama has made healthy eating a centerpiece of her “Let’s Move” campaign to help today’s kids avoid becoming the next generation of obese adults.

But let’s get real. Does anyone seriously expect the president to forgo all barbecue, fried food and mac n’ cheese during the 2012 Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C.? Should Obama be seen eating a tempeh vegetable loaf at Real Food Daily in West Hollywood or a kelp pasta dinner at Planet Raw in Santa Monica, does anyone doubt his adversaries on the right would use the occasion to label him “elite” and “out of touch”? Remember the mini-scandal that ensued when, in the early days of his first presidential campaign, he told Iowans: “Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?”

It’s hard to believe that Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine expects Obama to issue the anti-junk-food-photo-op executive order it’s asking for. But their petition gives them an opportunity to tout their views about the benefits of a vegan diet.

Because despite the group’s name, the primary goal of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is to promote animal rights. As Chris Woolston explained in this 2009 “Healthy Skeptic” column:

“Among other activities, the group lobbies against animal research, touts the health benefits of meat-free diets and rails against dairy as a cancer-causer. It runs "The Cancer Project," which promotes a vegan diet through activities such as free cooking classes.”

As of 2010, only about 8,500 of the group’s 128,500 members were actually physicians, according to its filings with the IRS.

Return to the Booster Shots blog.

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