Well hasn’t the clunkily-named Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute got value for money from its report showing 26% of Australians are overweight or obese? Australia’s Future ‘Fat Bomb’ — named in honour of the Get Smart movie The Nude Bomb , perhaps — has garnered 28 articles already across the metro and regional press, and at the time of writing 114 broadcast mentions. Not to mention overseas coverage.

And what immaculate timing, just when we’re farewelling our Olympians, enabling report author Simon Stewart to dip into the Everyman’s Book of Clunky Olympic Metaphors and declare “if we ran a fat Olympics we’d be gold medal winners.” LOL.

Not since up-and-coming shadow foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd declared “Alexander Downer gets a gold medal for stupidity” during the Athens Games has Olympian rhetoric soared to such great heights.

Mind you, the Yanks haven’t taken our pretensions to the title of World’s Fattest lying down. Showing that good ol’ never-say-die – or should that be never-say-diet – American attitude, the New York Daily News has hit back. “Not so fat, Australia,” says the News, claiming 34% of Americans are obese. “Aussies will need to put more pounds on down under before they can rightfully claim this dubious title.”

Maybe we need a US-Australia “fat-off” to see who takes the heavyweight crown. Except, of course, the fat would be going on, not coming off. But either way, there’s a reality TV show begging to be made.

The Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute has been shopping this study around for some time. They submitted it to the House of Representatives Health and Ageing Committee back in May, when that committee was holding an inquiry into obesity. The Institute also used the report as the basis for its submission to Kim Carr’s innovation review in April. But as many a Labor Government has demonstrated, of course, it never hurts to reannounce things. There’s always some sucker in the media who’ll pick it up. And how.

What, you may wonder, was a medical Institute doing making a submission to the Innovation inquiry? Well, see, the likes of Simon Stewart aren’t just Tim Costello-style professional handwringers. The Institute, which claims to be an “independent, not-for-profit medical research institute,” wants to make it easier for it to get government research funding. The institute may indeed be not-for-profit, but that doesn’t mean the people who run it don’t do very well indeed out of the Government research funding and tax breaks. And, as its submission to the Innovation inquiry shows, it’s alert to any possibility of accessing more taxpayer funding.

But innovation funding is only a sideline. The real game of this mob, and others like them throughout the health sector, is to play up medical crises that cry out for Governments to spend money to fix them — primarily by spending more money on research. Australia’s Future Fat Bomb is another instalment in the long-running effort to make obesity a medical problem and direct more taxpayer funding toward “fixing” it.

Nowhere in any of the coverage of the Institute’s report that I’ve seen is the authors’ conflicted status discussed.

Singling out this mob is a trifle unfair. Many sectors or peak bodies try the same stunt. The media falls for it every time. The AFR is particularly good at uncritically running stories about new reports or studies commissioned by industry associations that coincidentally demonstrate the need to direct more funding to that sector. The most successful of all has been the infrastructure lobby, which has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams in convincing the new Government that there’s an infrastructure crisis.

As today’s media coverage demonstrates, the health sector has been successful at promoting the concept of an obesity crisis, which needs government intervention to correct. The uncritical reporting from the media should at least indicate that, when it comes to taxpayer funding for obesity, the first and biggest beneficiaries will be the likes of the Baker IDI Institute.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey