Should CDC Be Able to Warn People Off Twinkies? Marion Nestle and PI Think So
Last month, Rep Aaron Schock of Illinois introduced a bill to muzzle the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He want to stop the CDC from pointing out that Twinkies and sodas are bad for people’s health -- supposedly because that would be bad for our country’s economic growth. In our latest Politico blog, Marion Nestle (Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University), and PI’s Larry Cohen and Rob Waters explore why this legislation is the exact opposite of what’s needed to fix our nation’s ailing health and economy. Here are some excerpts:
Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) argued in POLITICO April 17 that it should be illegal for the U.S. government’s public health guardian — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — to point out to children and their parents that Twinkies and sugar-laced sodas are bad for health. In his op-ed, Schock expresses concern that federal money is being used by local health agencies to “attack … Americans’ freedom of choice” when they point out that such products have little nutritional value, and contribute to the exploding rates of diabetes and other chronic disease. His solution: Muzzle the CDC and the community agencies they support.
Schock writes that government agencies shouldn’t be “telling Americans not to eat Twinkies at a time when the federal government is running trillion-dollar deficits.” But this is precisely the time we should be advising people not to eat foods that might be bad for their health. One of the biggest contributors to the deficit is the exploding cost of treating preventable chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, conditions closely linked to what we eat.
Read the full piece, here.
If we want to move the US in the direction of being a healthier society, we, as champions of prevention and public health, need to work hard to debunk claims like Schock’s. Here are some tips for tackling these kinds of sticky issues:
- Tell your story – and help demonstrate the value of prevention: It is essential for the public to hear, as often as possible, the ways that community prevention programs, including those funded by the CDC, help local communities stay healthier and, in the long run, help save money.
- Explain what your program or project is actually designed to achieve: Both the CDC and local public health programs are supposed to act as public health guardians – and alerting families to unsafe and unhealthy foods is well within this role.
- Reframe economic success: Schock argued that the economic success of our country would somehow be jeopardized by improving our health – but we know that the opposite is true: Healthier communities mean healthier workers and jobs and create opportunities for economic growth.
- Use data to make the case: Experts agree that junk food is a huge contributor to skyrocketing rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, and even strokes – and food and beverage companies spend billions of dollars promoting unhealthy foods virtually everywhere we go. We need legislation that supports our health, not the profits of industries that are making us sick.
And please, share our Politico column with your friends and colleagues. Tweet about it, post it to your Facebook page and otherwise get the word out. Thanks, as always, for your work…