October 13th, 2011
Childhood obesity war a food fight?
By Marian Burros
As the nutritional guidelines for advertising food to children backed by first lady Michelle Obama have drawn mounting opposition from the food industry, White House officials and others in the administration have been irked to find one of their former colleagues — Anita Dunn — playing a key role in the pushback.
Dunn, who served as White House communications director, is a senior partner at SKDKnickerbocker Consulting, which is handling public relations for the food industry’s campaign. Switching sides isn’t uncommon in the incestuous world of Washington consulting and lobbying, and the food industry coalition seeking to scuttle the voluntary guidelines argues that they are actually enforceable regulations in disguise that could lead to billions in lost sales.
Still, Dunn’s role has turned heads in several quarters where she is remembered as a champion of health care reform, among other issues, during her White House tenure.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, which is leading an effort to have the government guidelines implemented, has blasted Dunn for “actively undermining” the administration. “Anita Dunn and her firm should be ashamed of themselves for leading the food industry’s panicky efforts to quash the Obama administration’s reasonable and voluntary nutrition guidelines proposed for foods marketed to children,” the group said in a statement.
But a former White House staffer is not surprised Dunn has taken on the first lady’s most significant program. “I don’t think she was ever crazy about what the first lady was working on,” said the former staffer, who asked to remain anonymous. “She was never fully supportive of the childhood obesity initiative … The obesity initiative was ruffling the feathers of a lot of friends, so it doesn’t surprise me.”