The Civil War may be nearly a century and a half behind us, but the war between the states endures in curious ways. Case in point: the war on obesity.
While New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has worked to curb obesity and boost health among the city’s residents, his detractors complain that measures such as capping soda size take away personal freedoms. Backlash has been heavy, even down below the Mason-Dixon line, where lawmakers in Mississippi are taking a stance against government regulation on food marketing. And with a sly slap in the face, they're taking a stance against Bloomberg as well.
Dubbed the "Anti-Bloomberg Bill," the measure will disallow counties and towns from enacting rules that would require nutritional information to be posted, determine zoning for restaurants, cap portion sizes, or keep toys out of kids' meals. The bill had wide bipartisan support, passing in the state Senate, 50-1, and in the state House, 92-26.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is expected to sign the bill.
No surprise, it was the subject of intense lobbying by groups including the restaurant association, the small business and beverage group, and the chicken farmers' lobby, according to reports.
State Rep. Gregory Holloway ushered the bill through the House. He said the purpose is to form consistent nutrition laws across the state. "We don't want local municipalities experimenting with labeling of foods and any organic agenda. We want that authority to rest with the legislature," Holloway said.
That would mean that those living in one of the country’s fattest states, where 34.9 percent of residents are obese, would be kept from knowing the calorie counts of the food they eat; and individual counties would not have the right to enact healthy initiatives either.
Mike Cashion, executive director the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association, said the bill is a direct reaction to Bloomberg-style government intervention in public health, according to NPR. "If you look at how menus have changed, whether it be in fast food or family dining, you are seeing more and more healthy options," Cashion said. "Not because of legislative mandates or regulatory mandates, but because of consumer demand. Our industry has always been one to respond to the marketplace."
(Of course, it helps when the “marketplace” is not always aware of the nutritional value of food, and consumers are so easily seduced by tubs of fast food and attractive toys, the lure of which infects children with incessant whining that can only be cured with junk food and high fructose corn syrup.)
It’s a surprising move in a state where the ability to self-govern is a highly regarded ideal. In fact, some local politicians are voicing criticism.
Chip Johnson, mayor of Hernando, Miss., doesn’t necessarily adore Bloomberg’s soda ban, but neither does he embrace his state’s new legislation. A proponent of encouraging healthy habits, Johnson has received national accolades for his work in Hernando. And he doesn’t agree with the state government’s efforts to decide what he can do to help improve the health of his community, including barring nutritional information on menus.
"You know what? If little Alligator, Miss., wanted to do that, that's up to the people that live there. It is not up to the state to tell the people at the local level what to do," Johnson says. "They're just using this to mask what the bill is really about, which is about taking away home rule."
Related healthy eating stories on MNN: