Childhood Obesity = Big Bucks, Part 4

Don Witz

Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News mentioned how, whenever the sugar-sweetened beverage industry is threatened with some legal restriction, like not being eligible for SNAP (food stamps) purchase, other corporations tend to pile on. Lawyers emerge from the woodwork and lobbyists fling bribes at legislators. In a world where the humble potato (or its boss, the Frozen Potato Products Institute) will fight for the rights of fizzy drinks, who knows what could happen next.

The battles don’t only take place in courtrooms. Ordinary people are puzzled when their hardcore political beliefs are challenged by the numerous arguments on either side, and find themselves in dinner-table arguments with family members. Here is how Stan Cox broke it down for AlterNet.org:

Proposed restrictions have been condemned by many food banks and economic-justice organizations, who argue that it’s paternalistic and unfair for the government to try to dictate the food purchases of low-income families while everyone else is left to choose freely… Most of the opposition to a soda ban among food-rights groups is indeed aimed at protecting the interests of SNAP participants. But in some cases, motives appear to be more problematic.

One example he gives is the confused Food Research and Action Council (FRAC), which has been described as the premier anti-hunger group in Washington. The childhood obesity epidemic is another of the group’s concerns. Its “About” page says:

Counterintuitively, obesity plagues low-income people in this country just as hunger and food insecurity do. FRAC is leading the efforts to identify and communicate the connections among poverty, hunger, inadequate resources for healthy diets, and obesity among low-income people. FRAC also is working to broaden the reach of and improve the quality of public nutrition programs as a strategy to reduce obesity.

On the other hand, the organization’s Legislative Priorities page clearly states:

Congress must protect and strengthen SNAP by opposing any proposals to cap or reduce funding, restrict eligibility, reduce benefits, or make harmful structural changes.

Cox hints that FRAC envisions humiliating checkout-stand encounters between grocery store personnel and SNAP recipients who demand explanations for why they can’t buy microwavable chocolate-covered bacon nachos. Also, there is a civil liberties principle in operation, a belief that adults should make their own decisions about consuming nutritious meals or junk, even if they are on food stamps. Many Americans feel the same way, that the government is too darn paternalistic or (switching gender but preserving the spirit of the complaint) too much like the dreaded Nanny State.

On the other hand, FRAC takes money from Walmart, Sara Lee, Mars, Con-Agra, Coke, Pepsi, the Snack Food Association, and the American Beverage Association. Well, it is a nonprofit, and its operating expenses have to come from somewhere. And it seems to have done a lot of good things for the economically underprivileged. So is this a genuine and serious conflict of interest, or just a sadly necessary price of doing business inside the beltway?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Soda Industry Cashes In on Govt. Food Assistance Programs to Tune of $4 Billion a Year,” AlterNet.org, 05/07/13
Source: “About FRAC,” FRAC.org
Image by Tracy Jones71.

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