Conflict-Cola Is at It Again

Soda Aisle

What’s this about a $3 million deal between the United States Conference of Mayors and the American Beverage Association (ABA)? Actually, it’s a grant program, the 2012 Childhood Obesity Prevention Awards Program (link is PDF), and the ABA is giving away what sounds like a lot of money, but, really, once it’s divvied up among several winners, it’s not so much. The awards range from $150,000 down to $25,000 per city. Far less than a lobbyist makes in a day, probably. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But definitely less than a day’s pay for a soda pop CEO.

Apparently, most mayors encourage their cities to apply, and the paperwork is found on the Mayors’ website. A city can nominate one or more of the initiatives or programs its municipal government has founded — but the eligible programs are limited to four areas of endeavor:

• Increasing Physical Activity Opportunities for Children and Youth
• Improving Nutrition in Schools
• Helping Parents and Caregivers Make Healthy Choices in Early Childhood
• Improving Access to Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

There is no mention of teaching kids how to identify their problem foods and get unhooked from them. Nothing about residential programs or camps, or 12-step programs for treating full-blown food addiction. And no category called “Resisting the Destructive Power of Sugary Drinks.”

Senior policy advisor George Hacker of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit watchdog group, doubts that any good effects on the childhood obesity epidemic will result. He characterizes the grant program “narrowly tailored” and…

… specifically designed to exclude meaningful programs to reduce sugary-drink consumption in favor of highlighting unspecified ‘better solutions.’

Not surprisingly, as one of those better solutions, the soda pop cartel would have us emphasize physical activity. Which is all well and good, except that their product floods kids with so much sugar overload, there’s no way they can get enough exercise to work it off. In New York City, the local health department publicizes the fact that, to burn the calories from one 20-ounce soda pop, a person would have to walk from Union Square to Brooklyn, which is three miles.

That’s a public-service ad with an interesting approach. It could be adapted to any city with recognizable landmarks, so the inhabitants could relate to how far three miles is, and how many times a day you would have to walk it to compensate for pounding down three or four cans of soda.

Now, back to the 2012 Childhood Obesity Prevention Awards Program: What does the ABA get in return for its largesse? Presumably, complaint-tame mayors who don’t try to put a tax on soda pop in their cities. This article from the CSPI states,

… the soda industry has a long history of using similar grant programs to curry favor with key influencers or to silence potential critics, and that it was unseemly for the mayors’ group to encourage cities to apply for such tainted pots of money.

Winners will be announced in January, and the application deadline was on Halloween, very appropriate for a program that goes parading around in disguise, costumed as what the CSPI calls just another “ostensible philanthropic program.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “2012 Childhood Obesity Prevention Awards Program” (PDF) USMayors.org
Source: “Mayors’ Group Urged to Ditch Deal with Soda Industry,” cspinet.org, 11/03/11
Image by Like_the_Grand_Canyon, used under its Creative Commons license.

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