A judge’s ruling to invalidate New York City’s ban on oversized sugary drinks may have stolen the headlines this week, but down in the Deep South, Mississippi has also let it be known just how much say the government should have in determining what its citizens eat—and as you might guess, Mississippi’s answer is: not much.
Last week, lawmakers in Jackson overwhelmingly passed legislation that would prohibit local governments in the state from regulating the size of sodas or other sweetened beverages. But the law, which is virtually guaranteed to be signed by Governor Phil Bryant, goes much, much further. It also bars local officials from requiring restaurants to post nutrition information, to restrict things like sodium, and even from banning toys in fast-food kids meals.
Tony Smith, the state senator who co-authored the bill, told one local paper that the law was designed to “prevent misguided attempts to battle obesity.” But behind the political rhetoric, the bill seems largely symbolic, another one of those thumb-your-nose-at-the-“big-government”-liberals-on-the-coasts laws that make places like Mississippi seem like your recalcitrant little brother who just says “no” because he can.
Tick off any hot-button social issue, and the answer is the same: abortion rights, same-sex marriage, gun control, affordable healthcare, etc. The fact that we can now add Happy Meal toys to the list of seemingly intractable issues that separate Blue States from Red States (aka the Backlash Belt) is not so much surprising as it is depressingly predictable.
“It’s a free-market society,” Smith reportedly said, emphasizing that decisions like whether to buy a Coke the size of a newborn “should be left up to the consumer, and this will ensure they still have their freedoms to make a personal choice.”
Ironically, those sorts of “freedoms” are arguably killing Mississippi. The state has the highest rate of obesity in the country—almost 35 percent—according to the Centers for Disease Control. Given current trends, Mississippi’s obesity rate could nearly double in the next 20 years, according to recent projections by the nonprofit group Trust for America’s Health, causing a wave of public-health problems, including an estimated 415,000 new cases of type 2 diabetes and more than 800,000 new cases of coronary heart disease and stroke.
Yet—you guessed it—Gov. Bryant remains staunchly opposed to bringing more federal healthcare dollars to the state by expanding Medicaid, which would cover an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 residents. Apparently, he doesn’t see the need: “There is no one who doesn’t have health care in America,” Bryant said in an interview with Kaiser Health News earlier this year. “No one. Now, they may end up going to the emergency room...”
These are solely the author's opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.
Where do you stand on the Big Gulp in Mississippi?