Mississippi Governor Signs 'Anti-Bloomberg' Bill

New law prohibits cities and counties from imposing limits on soda and salt.

March 14, 2013, 4:09 PM

March 19, 2013— -- One week after a judge blocked New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's supersize soda ban, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill Monday that prevents municipalities from governing what or how much people can eat and drink.

In a state where one in three adults is obese, the so-called "anti-Bloomberg bill" received bipartisan support.

"It is simply not the role of government to micro-regulate citizens' dietary decisions," Bryant said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. "The responsibility for one's personal health depends on individual choices about a proper diet and appropriate exercise."

Mississippi consistently posts some of the lowest life expectancy rates in the nation. With an average life span of 74.8 years, a study by the American Human Development Project ranks the state last for life expectancy. The average life expectancy in the United States is about 78 years.

Meanwhile, life expectancy for New Yorkers has hit a record high. The average New York City resident born in 2010 can expect to live 80.9 years, according to the Bloomberg administration. The city's life expectancy number has grown by three years since 2001, nearly twice the nationwide rise.

Barring federal regulations, the new law explicitly gives the Mississippi legislature the final say on public health policies such as whether to post calorie counts on menus, cap portion sizes or place toys inside kids' fast-food meals.

The Mississippi law is the latest salvo in the escalating war between those who want the government to help rein in the obesity epidemic and those who rail against such "nanny state" politics.

With the number of overweight and obese people in the U.S. approaching 70 percent -- nearly double the percentage in 1980 --, according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, leading public policy experts argue something must be done to stem the tide of obesity.

Under Bloomberg's tenure, New York City has led the charge. It was one of the first cities to require calorie counts on fast-food menus and require all restaurants to eliminate partially hydrogenated oils, the main source of trans fats in the U.S. diet.

"Our Board of Health has always been a pioneer, and we're very proud of it," Bloomberg said in a statement. "It has always been ahead of the curve, and you would expect nothing less from this city."

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Other cities have followed suit, adopting similar legislation. Then, in 2010, the federal government passed a law requiring mandatory nutritional labeling for all foods sold at chain restaurants and retail food establishments, and in vending machines.

Critics of anti-obesity laws argue enough is enough. They believe health laws have become unduly burdensome, with the cost of compliance jeopardizing the livelihoods of smaller, independent food sellers. Increasingly, the laws are being challenged by food and beverage lobby groups and by citizens and who say the government has no right to tell them what they can pile onto their plates or pour into their cups.

Mississippi isn't the first state to pass a law designed to halt further food and beverage regulation. Ohio passed a law similar to Mississippi's in 2011 after toys in fast-food meals were banned in San Francisco and Santa Clara County, Calif., and Los Angeles restricted the sale of fast food in specific neighborhoods. States including Florida, Arizona and Alabama have restricted local governments from regulating the restaurant industry.

But Mississippi's law goes the furthest. Cities and counties cannot limit portion sizes, require calorie counts on menus or restrict the sale of food based on how it was grown, including products that contain genetically modified crops or meat.

"Leading a healthy lifestyle is important to me, and it is a personal priority of mine to educate Mississippians on the importance of making good health decisions," Bryant said in a statement.

But health advocacy groups insist something must be done to help consumers lighten up. Michael Jacobson, executive director of Center for Science in the Public Interest, said he believed the Mississippi law and others like it are counterproductive.

"If I were a member of the Mississippi legislature, I would be much more concerned with the money the state shells out to treat obesity, diabetes and other soda-related diseases. And I'd save the insults for the playground, not legislation," Jacobson said.

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