March 25, 2010
First Lady Michelle Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mrs. Obama:
We, the undersigned, are partners in the Collaborative on Health and the Environment, an international network of scientists, health professionals and advocates committed to using the best available science to improve the health of our families and our communities. We are deeply grateful for your leadership in facing the challenge of the obesity epidemic, which has concerned many of us for years. We also strongly support the initiatives that you are undertaking to address this major public health issue, which is having such a devastating effect on the health of American families.
We would like to underscore in this letter that the obesity epidemic is the result of many interacting factors and not just a lifestyle challenge—something that you acknowledge, but is rarely highlighted in the media or understood by the general public. The Institute of Medicine (IOM), for example, has publicly stated the importance of access to healthy food to help curb the increasing prevalence of obesity. Along these lines, it is clear the federal government, given its ability to influence food production through subsidies, needs to incorporate strategies to promote more healthful and less calorie-dense, nutrient-poor food.
Other factors contributing to obesity include socioeconomic status and genetic predisposition, as well as poorly designed communities that discourage walking and biking.
In addition to these issues, the prestigious international Endocrine Society published a seminal report last year stating that, “scientific research implies the impact of environmental substances in the generative roots of obesity.” The rapidly growing body of scientific evidence suggests that chemicals known as endocrine disruptors may be associated with a range of health concerns, including various cancers, developmental disabilities and infertility. In addition, some of these chemicals may also act as “obesogens” – that is, substances that trigger the propensity to develop obesity. Of critical importance, these obesogens appear to reprogram metabolism starting before birth, thereby increasing a child’s predisposition for obesity before he/she is even born. In addition, research shows that these chemicals may also promote the development and maturation of fat cells throughout life. In other words, we cannot ignore the evidence that these chemicals, found in everyday products and in our food and water, may also contribute to this epidemic.
The science on obesogens is very clear in animal studies (please see the attached article in press for the San Francisco Medical Society Journal [available on CHE’s website]). Although we have little information yet about how obesogens impact humans, there is some initial research in humans suggesting the urgent need for further study.
The truth is that we as a society need to recognize all the interacting factors that can contribute to obesity—including the risk that exposures to obesogens can pose. Any campaign that does not take into account the role of these chemicals in the obesity epidemic will run counter to President Obama’s promise that this administration will be guided by the best available science. Given this, the emerging science clearly indicates that national chemical policy reform is an essential ingredient of your campaign against childhood obesity.
We congratulate you on your foresightedness in choosing obesity as one of your signature issues as First Lady. Please know we would also be happy to discuss ways to address the full range of concerns associated with obesity and to work with you and your colleagues to champion prevention as essential to real health care reform for all Americans.
Thank you again for your leadership and consideration.
With best wishes,
Bruce Blumberg, PhD, Professor, Departments of Developmental and Cell Biology and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of California, Irvine
Susan Braun, Executive Director, Commonweal
Linda C. Guidice, MD, PhD, MSc, Professor and Chair, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science, The Robert B. Jaffe, MD Endowed Professor in the Reproductive Sciences, Director, Center for Research on Origins and Biological Consequences of Human Infertility, Director UCSF Women’s Reproductive Health Research Career Development Center, University of California, San Francisco
Andrea Gore, PhD, Gustavus and Louise Pfeiffer Professor, Division of Pharmacology and Toxicology, The University of Texas, Austin
Richard J. Jackson, MD, MPH, Chair and Professor, Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles
Phil Landrigan, MD, MSc, Ethel H. Wise Professor and Chairman, Department of Preventive Medicine, Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Center for Children’s Health and the Environment, Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Philip R. Lee, MD, Former United States Assistant Secretary of Health, Chancellor of the University of California at San Francisco, Professor at Stanford University
Michael Lerner, PhD, President, Commonweal
Elise Miller, MEd, Director, Collaborative on Health and the Environment
John Peterson Myers, PhD, Founder, CEO and Chief Scientist of Environmental Health Sciences
Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, Science Director, Science and Environmental Health Network
Carlos Sonnenschein, MD, Professor, Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Tufts University School of Medicine
Ana Soto, MD, Professor, Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Tufts University School of Medicine
R. Thomas Zoeller, PhD, Chair and Professor, Biology Department, Morrill Science Center
Institute of Medicine reports: The Public Health Effects of Food Deserts. Workshop Summary
, Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood Obesity
and Progress in Preventing Childhood Obesity: Focus on Industry—Brief Summary: Institute of Medicine Regional Symposium
. Available on the IOM website, http://www.iom.edu/Reports.aspx?search=obesity
, viewed March 11, 2010.
 Diamanti-Kandarakis E et al. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement. Endocr Rev. 2009 Jun;30(4):293-342. Available online at http://www.endo-society.org/journals/scientificstatements/, viewed March 11, 2010.
 Grün F, Blumberg B. Endocrine disrupters as obesogens. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2009 May 25;304(1-2):19-29. Heindel JJ, vom Saal FS. Role of nutrition and environmental endocrine disrupting chemicals during the perinatal period on the aetiology of obesity. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2009 May 25;304(1-2):90-6.