Feds Spent $3.5 Million on Anti-Obesity Hip-Hop Songs

‘Bake don’t fry and I’ll tell you why’

/ AP
February 11, 2016

A joint project by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health spent over $3.5 million to create anti-obesity hip-hop songs like the instant classic, "Bake Don’t Fry."

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have been working on the program for more than a decade, which uses music to try to get obese preschoolers to lose weight.

"Hip-Hop to Health Jr. is an evidence-based healthy eating and exercise curriculum developed for children ages 3-7 years," according to the project’s website.

"The curriculum is literacy-based, interactive and can be easily implemented in a variety of settings including schools, childcare centers, park districts, afterschool programs, churches, and homes," the website explains. "Each week focuses on a specific theme such as go and grow foods, fruits and veggies, alternative activities to TV, heart healthy exercise, and so on."

The project has produced one album of 20 songs, featuring artists SweetDreamz, Suzanne Palmer, and Gravity.

The researchers brought in producer Craig J. Snider for the album "Hip Hop to Health," who remixes Katy Perry songs and says he has "placed songs and/or composed music" for Sex and the City and the soap opera Passions.

"He is best known for his success as a Producer, Arranger and Keyboardist on a string of Remixes [and] Album productions that have topped Billboard's dance chart (27 Number One Hits!), including JT's ‘What goes around,’ Mariah Carey's ‘Don't Forget About Us,’ Kelly Clarkson's ‘Walk Away,’ and Beyoncé’s ‘Irreplaceable,’" according to Snider’s website.

The government-funded anti-obesity songs have yet to reach as high on the charts.

One of the tracks, "Bake Don’t Fry," encourages kids to lay off the French Fries with a Barry White-inspired tune:

Bake don’t fry, and I’ll tell you why
Will help you grow, won’t make you slow
Bake don’t fry
Will help you grow, won’t make you slow
Cause I’m Mr. Protein
B-b-b-b-b-bake don’t fry

The album also features "Who Are the Foods in the Pyramid," with a singer that sounds like Biz Markie, and a remix of the classic "Skip to My Lou." Songs unavailable to listen to online include "Apples and Bananas," and "Cereal Rhyme."

Taxpayers can purchase the songs they bankrolled for $12.

The Department of Agriculture awarded $950,000 to the project in 2011. The project’s term does not end until January 2017.

The spending was on top of grants from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, beginning in 2005. The project received $2,495,850 over four years to study the Hip-Hop to Health intervention, as well as $95,733 for a workshop using the program. In all, the studies have cost taxpayers $3,541,583.

The project has been much more costly than the Department of Agriculture’s other foray into hip-hop about obesity. The agency previously gave a music company $88,529 to write rap songs like "Rethink Your Drink," which told the story of a "homie from around the way" that was getting fat off too much soda.

Melinda Stolley, previously with the University of Illinois at Chicago and now a professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, created the Hip-Hop to Health program and "wrote the lyrics for many of the songs on the program CD." Marian Fitzgibbon, a University of Illinois at Chicago, has worked with Stolley to study the intervention.

The program includes more than just hip-hop songs, also aiming to change what foods parents buy.

"Hip-Hop to Health targets preschool children and their parents and includes programming on physical activity, television viewing, food available in the home, portion sizes, obesity prevention strategies, and contextual factors that can create barriers to healthy eating and physical activity," the university said when announcing the grant from the Department of Agriculture in 2011.

"The program has been used in Head Start and Chicago Public School preschool programs and was found to be effective in reducing future increases in body mass index (BMI) among 3- to 5-year-old minority, low-income children," the university said.

"By partnering with existing nutrition programs that are designed to provide information on basic nutrition, food budgeting, shopping skills and food safety to improve the health of low-income families, we will have direct access to a population of children at risk for obesity and related conditions," Fitzgibbon said.

Some of the project’s first findings in 2006 revealed that, though they liked the songs, Hip-Hop to Health did not make a difference for Latino children’s body mass indexes.

"When Hip-Hop to Health Jr. was conducted in predominantly black Head Start centers, it was effective in reducing subsequent increases in BMI in preschool children," the results said. "In contrast, when the program was conducted in Latino centers, it was not effective."

"Although the intervention did not prevent excessive weight gain in Latino children, it was very well received," the researchers said.