As food cops go, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) wields one of the biggest billy clubs around. Its eight billion dollars nurtures an ever-growing posse of social engineers — intent on reshaping our lives and our diets. After spending hundreds of millions to demonize alcohol and reduce the responsible consumption of adult beverages, RWJF has now announced that obesity “is our highest priority as a foundation and will be [our] highest priority for the next ten years.” According to U.S. News & World Report, it “could devote up to $175 million” to anti-obesity campaigns over the next five years. Along the way, you can expect RWJF to return to its anti-alcohol playbook, chock full of soft science and questionable tactics.
Between 1997 and 2002, RWJF spent $265 million to attack adult beverages. About $200,000 of that money went to fund the “Alcohol Policy XII” conference, whose “key learnings” RWJF still highlights on its website. The most striking recommendation to come out of the talks: “Research and data … should support the goals of the partnership/program funders.” A second disturbing “key learning”: “It is hard to get supporting data, so [policy makers] must be willing to accept ‘soft’ data.” Essentially, researchers are supposed to do whatever the grant maker wants, and politicians are supposed to accept researchers’ data, even when it’s weak and inconclusive.
RWJF’s shoot-first, ask-questions-later model is now being used to rally activists in the war on our food choices. Its president has sounded the “soft” science alarm for obesity, telling the RWJF-funded TIME/ABC News “Summit on Obesity” that “We cannot afford to surrender an entire generation to obesity while we’re waiting to learn. Let’s get to work.” In other words, RWJF wants to put the policy cart before the research horse — only to beat us with a stick and force-feed us carrots.