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The Physicians Committee

Mr. President, Leave Product Placement to Hollywood
June 4, 2012

President Obama eating junk foodSoda companies do it. Fast-food chains do it. Car manufacturers do it. They get their products onto movie sets, and the cash register goes wild. Product placement sells.

And the White House does it, too. Most notably, the U.S. president stands on the White House lawn on Thanksgiving to “pardon” a turkey, which happened to have been supplied by the National Turkey Federation, which reaps massive publicity in return.

If White House photo ops sold food products just once a year, no one would care. But presidents are routinely raising a hot dog, eating a burger, or driving to this or that restaurant—not because they are hungry. (There is no shortage of food in the White House kitchen.) They do it because they are told to. No, not for money. They are creating an image, and food is the key ingredient.

When the president and vice president took their motorcade to an “impromptu meal,” the destination was Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington, Va.—just the kind of place where a couple of regular guys could grab a meal as the shutters snap. A visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev prompted a return trip to the same carefully selected all-American burger joint. And when Prime Minister Gordon Brown crossed the pond, the photographic venue was a basketball game with hot dogs prominently in each leader’s hand. American presidents on both sides of the political aisle, from Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton have all appeared in photo ops stuffing unhealthful eats into their mouths.

Now, let’s be clear: it’s no one’s business what a political leader eats in his or her private life. But these are photo ops, each one carefully arranged by the White House in order to create an intentional image. And time and again, they feature exactly the food products that federally funded research has shown to cause obesity, cancer, and other health problems, and that health officials are encouraging us to avoid.

Red and processed meats—burgers and hot dogs—cause colorectal cancer. Every year, more than 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and about 50,000 die of it. A recent report from the Harvard School of Public Health says that a daily serving of processed meats, like hot dogs, sausages, and bacon, increases the risk of premature death by 20 percent.

So enough junk food photo ops already. PCRM recently filed a petition calling on the White House to ban junk-food photo ops that feature the president and other government officials promoting foods that have a direct link to cancer and obesity.

By the way, this is not just an American phenomenon. British Prime Minister Cameron posed serving barbecue to British and U.S. service members at Downing Street and stood at a hot dog cart with New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. PCRM recently teamed up with British Queens Counsel Michael Mansfield to ask 10 Downing Street for a policy change that would require the prime minister and his cabinet to stop featuring junk food in official photo ops.

The president never lit up a cigarette during White House photo ops. It’s time now to recognize that more cancers are caused by food choices than by tobacco and to stop giving product placement to the enemy.


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