Michael Bloomberg got the headlines for his assault on the Big Gulp, but Im more intrigued by Disneys anti-obesity push.
Last week, Disney said it will dump TV, radio and web ads for junk food, sweet cereals and candy, a ban that goes into effect in 2015.
It calls to mind 1971, when Congress banned tobacco advertising on TV. That was a government edict, of course, and this time one private company is making the move unilaterally. But the intent is the same: to insulate young, impressionable viewers from slick ads pitching unhealthy products.
The parallel between our nations campaign against smoking and its looming battle against obesity has been on my mind since Monday, when I listened to former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler speak in Boise.
Kessler served up a belt-busting helping of grim stats about the obesity epidemic including the fact that the annual excess medical costs stemming from obesity, $190 billion, have eclipsed tobacco-related costs. But Kessler, an appointee who served for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, refused to feed into the despair. America can win this battle, he said, but not easily.
This is as hard as anything weve ever done in health care, Kessler told an audience of community leaders at a luncheon sponsored by Saint Alphonsus Health System.
The difficulty of the task became apparent when Kessler brought up Bloombergs proposed ban on large soft drink servings. By a show of hands, almost everyone in the audience agreed that the New York mayor had correctly identified a contributor to obesity: outsized portion sizes. But only a quarter of the audience supported the Bloomberg ban. (Personally, Im with the majority on this. I have a problem with outlawing an unhealthy dieting decision when it doesnt directly affect anybody else.)
So theres the rub. Even when we can identify the problems, it will be difficult to agree on the solutions.
No one solution will reverse this trend, says Kessler. If America is going to address the obesity problem at its origin childhood obesity parents, schools and the health industry all must play a role.
What about advertising? Its part of the problem, says Kessler. Advertising says little about the food itself its nutritional value, or lack thereof and instead sells the feeling, the experience. Weve made food into entertainment, he said.
Which, I believe, is exactly what our society did with tobacco, not too many decades ago. We sold tobacco as cool, and have spent decades recalibrating our thinking. Yes, government has banned smoking in most public areas, an attempt to combat the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. At the same time, weve tried to change the way young people think about tobacco, before they take up a smoking habit.
Advertising bans are a slippery First Amendment slope, especially when the restrictions come from government. And if ads for sugar-coated cereals are off-limits on channels for kids, is it OK for sports networks to take ad dollars from fast-food chains touting greasy, oversized value menus?
Lets just take first things first. Kids, logically, are more likely to be persuaded by glitzy advertising. It also stands to reason that the obesity problem has to be addressed with our youth. We may never be able to quantify whether Disneys move affects obesity rates, but we may be able to tell whether the decision causes advertisers, and other networks, to rethink their behaviors.
So lets stay tuned.
AND, ALSO ON THE DAILY SHOW ...
Even if youre just a casual viewer of The Daily Show, chances are good that you tuned in June 14 to see the Comedy Central programs treatment of J.R. Simplot Co. and the infamous two-headed trout.
But if you just tuned in for the trout, you might have missed a Mike Crapo sighting.
Idahos senior senator made a brief appearance as host Jon Stewart ripped Senate Republicans for their kid-glove treatment of JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon.
Crapo gets off light compared to Senate Banking Committee colleague Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the object of much of Stewarts ridicule. But Crapos questioning wont go down as a grilling at least as Comedy Central spliced it together: What should the function of the (bank) regulators be? ... What other areas of oversight would be the most effective for us?
And to answer the question posed by Stewarts segment, Crapo did receive a campaign donation from JPMorgan Chases political action committee: $5,000, during his 2010 re-election campaign.
Kevin Richert: 377-6437, Twitter: @KevinRichert