Mississippi Pushes Bill Ensuring Mississippians Stay Fat

News & Politics

Mississippi — where about one in three adults is at least 30 pounds heavier than a healthy weight — isn’t on board with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to combat obesity rates by regulating large sugary drinks. In fact, lawmakers in Mississippi want to be absolutely certain their own local officials won’t implement the same kind of public health initiatives. A bill awaiting Gov. Phil Bryant’s (R) signature would prevent any Mississippi county from taking steps to address the obesity epidemic by regulating the food and beverage industries:

A bill now on the governor’s desk would bar counties and towns from enacting rules that require calorie counts to be posted, that cap portion sizes, or that keep toys out of kids’ meals. “The Anti-Bloomberg Bill” garnered wide bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature in a state where one in three adults is obese, the highest rate in the nation.

The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican. It was the subject of intense lobbying by groups including the restaurant association, the small business and beverage group, and the chicken farmers’ lobby.

Mike Cashion, executive director the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association, says the bill is a direct reaction to Bloomberg-style government intervention in public health.

Despite the fact that a judge recently struck down Bloomberg’s soda initiative, preventing it from taking effect this week, public health experts still agree it was agood policy. Unlike other foods that can have some benefits if they’re consumed in moderation, sugary drinks have absolutely no nutritional value — and portion sizes have continued to spiral out of control anyway.

“There is really very clear evidence now that soft drinks are related to weight gain and obesity and, most certainly, diabetes,” Dr. Walter Willett, a nutrition expert at the Harvard School of Public Health, told NBC News. “We are in the midst of an epidemic of diabetes and obesity. The evidence is very clear that soda consumption has a role in the epidemic.”

Some proponents of Mississippi’s measure claim it’s simply an attempt to standardize nutrition policy across the state. Still, passing reactionary legislation to New York City’s attempt to address the obesity epidemic — which already accounts for 21 percent of national health care spending, a figure that’s likely to continue to rise since roughly 42 percent of Americans are projected to be obese by 2030 — is a step in the wrong direction.

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