Stimulus-funded war on obesity spreads nationwide

Amanda Carey Contributor
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Michelle Obama isn’t the only one waging a war on obesity. Unbeknownst to them, taxpayers are too.

A stimulus-funded anti-obesity campaign has spread throughout the country. And the $650 million Recovery Act program called Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) is funding not just anti-obesity campaigns in New York City, but campaigns throughout the country.

Thirty-one localities — from cities in Hawaii to Maine to South Carolina — have received grants to combat the effects of sugary drinks and trans fats on residents’ waistlines.

The state of California was by far the biggest beneficiary, receiving $55.1 million to do things like “reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and promote healthy eating” and “implement physical education policies in schools.” Of that grant, $32.1 million went to Los Angeles, $16.1 million went to San Diego, and $6.9 million went to Santa Clara. Yet California is one of the country’s slimmest states.

Washington State received $25.5 million in taxpayer dollars to fight obesity. The grant went directly to the Seattle and King County Department of Public Health. However, according to Forbes rankings, Seattle is one of the top ten fittest cities in America. Nonetheless, in 2010, Seattle announced a campaign to reduce consumption of sugary drinks, modeled after “materials developed in New York City.”

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health received $25.4 million to “make healthy foods more available and affordable” and remove “unhealthy food” from schools.

Cook County and the City of Chicago in Illinois received $15.9 million and $11.6 million, respectively, to promote healthy living and anti-smoking campaigns.

Pima County in Arizona received $15.8 million. And in Texas, San Antonio got $15.6 million while the city of Austin, which is ranked as one of the fittest cities in America, got $7.5 million.

The affluent city of Boston, Massachusetts, where lawmakers are considering a ban on soft drinks, received $12.5 million in grants. In return, the city promised to decrease consumption of sugary beverages, increase active transit, and infuse more physical activity and health education into the school system.

But the war on obesity and soda already has at least one known victim. Just last month, Pepsi Beverages Company halted production at its Baltimore, Maryland plant. The company attributed the decision, in part, to a new 2-cent beverage tax in Baltimore.

“It’s ironic that the stimulus money is being used to drive the beverage companies out of business,” said Tom Borelli of the Free Enterprise Project.

“The war on soda is just an excuse for the progressive movement to control individual choice and raise revenue for bloated state budgets,” Borelli added.

Whether the war on obesity results in soda taxes around the country is up for states and cities to decide. But as West Virginia and Arkansas – the two of the three states with a separate soda tax – can attest, it doesn’t necessarily result in a lower obesity rate. Both states have two of the highest obesity levels in the country —  and Arkansas’ tax, for example, has been in place since 1992.