With the swipe of his pen, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law this week Senate Bill 2687, a law that bans local municipalities and other county governments from regulating unhealthy foods in the most obese state in the nation.
The law, championed by lobbyists for the state restaurant association, chicken growers and more, is a direct response to local municipalities and county governments that favored regulations aimed to curb unhealthy eating. With his signature, Bryant effectively nixed local ordinances that required restaurants to list calorie counts and prohibit toys inserted into kids’ meals. Proponents of restrictions have long argued that fast food kid’s meals, those packaged with a toy, is an immoral way of luring children into an unhealthy diet.
There may be some weight to that argument. In 2011, federal rankings show that Mississippi was the fattest in the nation, with nearly 35 percent of its adults listed as being “very fat.” Yet, on the flipside, Bryant showed statistics indicating obesity rates among Mississippi elementary school students dipped roughly 13 percent from 2005-2006 as schools chose to serve only healthier foods. The law won’t affect those school decisions.
This new law is not the first to address the issue of obesity and government regulation on fatty food. While Bryant’s law no longer requires calorie counts and other regulations, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recently attempted to ban the sale of super sized sugary soft drinks, like the Big Gulp, in the city. A judge struck down the billionaire mayor’s efforts.
The line between free will and government intrusion has become a slippery slope regarding the food industry. On one side, there are people who argue regulation, with regard to food intake, is an intrusion of civil rights. On the other hand, those with health issues caused by unhealthy eating tend to drive up healthcare costs, which ultimately are offset by rising healthcare premiums that everyone must pay. Regulations on unhealthy food intake is often a way to target these healthcare costs, which with the case of the uninsured can have a huge impact on government sponsored health clinics.
It would be interesting to know what the general public in Mississippi thinks about this new law. Maybe they could share a Big Gulp and talk it over.