The federal government has spent almost $1.5 million over the last five years to study obesity among pregnant women, with a specific focus on minorities.
The National Institutes of Health has sponsored a continuing grant for the University of California, Berkeley, to compare women’s weight gain before, during and after pregnancy and the effects of motherhood obesity on childhood obesity across racial lines.
“Women are at special risk for developing obesity during childbearing; however, the relationship between weight gain before, during and after pregnancy may differ between black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic white women,” according to the grant. “Maternal obesity at conception and/or excessive weight gain during pregnancy may also significantly influence the development and programming of metabolic processes in offspring — impacts which may also vary by race/ethnicity.”
But some spending watchdogs say the grant is a wasteful use of taxpayer dollars on a racially targeted study that could be conducted more broadly.
“Apparently, someone at NIH is taking ‘yo momma so fat’ jokes way too seriously,” said Ryan Ellis, tax policy director at Americans for Tax Reform.
Richard Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, argued that the grant is the latest example of the Obama administration’s mission to marginalize racial minorities through health studies.
“It is surprisingly unsurprising that Obama is using the federal government credit card to pay a Cal Berkeley professor to attempt to racialize maternal weight gain,” Mr. Manning said. “Personally, I’m tired of every crackpot idea being funded, and the inherently racist focus of this grant is particularly noxious.”
In fact, the NIH lists dozens of racially specific obesity studies as related projects to this grant, many targeting young black girls.
One study, costing $1.7 million, aimed to provide an online “obesity prevention program for 8-10 year old African American girls.”
Another grant claimed to look at the “Role of 3D weight progression software in weight counseling to decrease weight-related health disparities among adolescent African-American females.” The new project received nearly $200,000 in 2015.
For spending precious federal science dollars to apply a racial lens to a problem that affects all of America, the NIH wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a weekly award from The Washington Times aimed at highlighting questionable federal spending.
Mr. Manning argued that such studies’ main fallacy is assuming race has an effect on health, and said taxpayers should not have to fund studies that marginalize health problems.
“At its core, the assumption of these studies — that different races have psychological differences that lead to maternity-based obesity — should raise concerns that this administration views everything through a racist lens. I had hoped that, by 2015, people would not be trying to make medical cases that the color of people’s skin made them inherently different. Apparently Obama didn’t get the memo,” Mr. Manning said.
A spokeswoman for NIH told The Times that the study falls within the agency’s mission to “seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and apply that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life and reduce illness and disability.”
Scientists and health experts agree that obesity, especially in children, is a growing problem.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one third of U.S. adults are obese, and approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese.
But the purpose of this grant, according to the description, is not just to investigate ways to reduce child obesity but to probe “racial/ethnic differences in the impact and interactions between several factors that may increase maternal BMI at mid-life as well as obesity in offspring.”
The research is relevant because “racial and ethnic minority populations who experience chronic stress, discrimination, poverty and adverse experiences are at risk for excessive weight gain during pregnancy,” the spokeswoman said.
Julie Gunlock, a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, argued that it was necessary to conduct the targeted study because obesity rates are higher among minority communities.
“I would say that childhood obesity is often blamed on things like the food the child is eating or the television the child is watching. But childhood obesity, just like adult obesity, is very complicated. There is some concern about the health of the mother during pregnancy and how that can contribute to children developing obesity,” Ms. Gunlock said.
“There is an argument to be made that this does need more research. As someone who is frustrated by legislators who try to put soda taxes in place and bans on toys in happy meals, I don’t really mind research into some of the other causes of obesity,” she added.
The Times has reported on similar marginalizing health studies that have raised eyebrows in the past.
In May The Times reported on a project costing nearly half-a-million dollars to get LGBT smokers to quit smoking cigarettes.
In July it was revealed that the agency had spent over $2.6 million on a program targeting obese truck drivers to get them to lose weight.
In August the Times reported that NIH spent $800,000 studying the dating habits of obese teenage girls.
The questionable studies have prompted harsh rebukes from lawmakers and watchdogs, who have pushed back on NIH arguments that it needs more funding for important medical research.
“The National Institutes of Health says that it lacks the necessary funding it needs to conduct medical research on illnesses like Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes, yet it continues to spend money on these sorts of projects,” said Nicole Kaeding, a budget analyst at the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank. “It is hard to take their calls for more funding seriously when they mismanage the $30 billion a year they already receive.”