At Atlanta’s Coca-Cola headquarters, the public relations team has rolled out action reports, contingency plans and lobbying proposals to combat the latest threat to corporate profits: the communists coming after your soda cans. Here’s wishing those so-called communists, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the best of luck.
To combat the growing obesity epidemic, Bloomberg has proposed banning the sale of super-sized sweetened beverages — those larger than 16 ounces — at restaurants, theaters and street-side stands. Predictably, the mayor has been swamped with criticism from free-market lobbyists and anti-government activists, who have denounced the proposal as emblematic of an overweening “nanny” state.
In 2009, as first lady Michelle Obama was beginning to think about tackling childhood obesity, Coca-Cola chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent readied his rhetorical arsenal, calling the suggestion of a federal tax on soft drinks “outrageous.”
“I have never seen it work where a government tells people what to eat and what to drink. If it worked, the Soviet Union would still be around,” he told an Atlanta Rotary Club gathering.
The crisis of our growing corpulence has become enmeshed in partisan warfare, just another victim of our insanely warped political culture. That’s dangerous.
This is a genuine public health emergency, as devastating in its own way as the polio epidemic of the 1940s and ’50s. For the first time, national public health experts are warning that children of this generation may not live as long as their parents, largely due to diseases brought on prematurely by excess weight. That would be a stunning reversal in a nation where each generation has claimed a slightly longer life span.
But as soon as the first lady decided to make a campaign against childhood obesity her signature project, conservatives lined up against it. The right wing rebelled even though Obama was not naive enough to follow through with a proposal for a soda tax.