- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 13, 2015

It isn’t much of a secret that overweight girls tend to have harder times getting dates to the prom, much less boyfriends. But federal officials apparently wanted scientific proof, so they spent $800,000 studying obese teenage romances.

Last year, the National Institutes of Health, the government’s health research arm, gave nearly a half-million in taxpayer dollars to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to monitor groups of teenage girls to determine how obesity affects their dating lives and their ability to form relationships.

“Mounting evidence demonstrates that weight influences intimate (i.e., dating and sexual) relationship formation and sexual negotiations among adolescent girls,” the project description states. “Obese girls consistently report having fewer dating and sexual experiences, but more sexual risk behaviors (i.e., condom nonuse) once they are sexually active.”

Using data from two national studies, researchers will compare the love lives of obese and non-obese girls to determine whether heavier teens “experience a delay in the development of peer and intimate relationship skills compared to non-obese girls,” then compare the characteristics of obese girls’ relationships to those of skinny girls, and see how the differences shape their sexual habits over time.

The original project, which was first awarded in 2014, has been extended for a second year, with funding budgeted through 2016.

The study is raising eyebrows among taxpayers’ advocates, who say the grant is a ridiculous waste of hardworking Americans’ money by an agency that constantly bemoans a lack of congressional funding for scientific research.

“Has the government checked social media lately? It doesn’t cost $800,000 to find out about teenagers’ dating drama,” said Douglas Kellogg, communications manager for the National Taxpayers Union. “With a growing $18 trillion debt, government should be worrying about its own size.”

For spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to study the differences between overweight and skinny girls’ love lives and their romantic prospects, NIH wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a weekly distinction awarded by The Washington Times highlighting examples of wasteful federal spending.

“It boggles the mind that the federal government studied the dating behavior of overweight girls to find out that they get fewer dates,” said Richard Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, a spending watchdog. “What planet are these people living on?”

In a statement to The Times, the NIH defended the grant, saying it fell under the agency’s research mission to address the full spectrum of human health across all populations of Americans.

“Research into unhealthy human behaviors that are estimated to be the proximal cause of more than half of the disease burden in the U.S. will continue to be an important area of research supported by NIH. Only by developing effective prevention and treatment strategies for health-injuring behaviors can we reduce the disease burden in the U.S. and thus, enhance health and lengthen life, which is the mission of the NIH,” the agency said.

A spokeswoman for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia declined to comment on federal funding projects.

According to the grant, studies have consistently shown that obese adolescent girls engage in more risky sexual behavior compared with non-obese girls.

But few studies have “examined the mechanisms underlying this association” or the causes behind these risky habits, presumably obesity.

“This is not the first time taxpayers have seen their money go to research that can only be useful to a government that tries to control the social interactions of the people,” Mr. Kellogg said.

According to NIH’s statement, “The study is expected to provide information for developing and improving interventions to reduce risky sexual behavior in adolescent girls. The findings could be used to develop interventions to help high risk adolescents, such as unprotected sex.”

The Washington Times has uncovered several examples of NIH “nanny state” grants purportedly funding research that addresses national health concerns.

These grants have included:

$2.6 million since 2011 on a weight-loss program for truck drivers.

$2 million since 2012 on an online campaign to get women to nag their husbands to quit using smokeless tobacco.

Nearly $450,000 on a smoking cessation program for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders.

Yet the agency continually asks Congress for bigger appropriations budgets, pointing to a lack of funding for research on other, arguably more 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.”

Last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, invited former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to persuade Republicans in Congress to approve another increase in the NIH budget after years of decline.

In October, at the height of the Ebola crisis, Ms. Warren suggested that Congress was responsible for the spread of the disease because of budget cuts for NIH medical research.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Republican presidential contender, rebutted that argument and pointed to a number wasteful NIH research programs.

NIH blames tightening federal budget for its inability to produce an Ebola vaccine, but somehow found $2.4 million to develop ‘origami’ condoms designed with Japanese folding paper in mind, over half a million dollars to determine that chimpanzees with the best poop-flinging skills are also the best communicators, thousands of dollars creating a website for Michelle Obama’s garden, and more,” Mr. Paul wrote in an Oct. 14 Facebook post.

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