First lady cautious on NY drink plan

2012-06-06 16:06
First lady Michelle Obama says banning big servings of sugary drinks isn't anything she'd want to do at the federal level. (AFP))

First lady Michelle Obama says banning big servings of sugary drinks isn't anything she'd want to do at the federal level. (AFP)) (Mandel Ngan)

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Washington - First Lady Michelle Obama says banning big servings of sugary drinks isn't anything she'd want to do at the federal level, but she offered some kind words on Tuesday for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's effort to do just that. She later issued a statement backing away from taking a stand on New York's controversial proposed ban.

It was a telling example of the fine line the first lady walks as she tries to improve Americans' health and eating habits without provoking complaints that she's part of any "nanny state" telling people how to eat or raise their children.

Asked about Bloomberg's proposal during an interview with The Associated Press, Mrs Obama said there's no "one-size-fits-all" solution for the country's health challenges. But she said: "We applaud anyone who's stepping up to think about what changes work in their communities. New York is one example."

And asked whether the nation's obesity epidemic warrants taking a more aggressive approach, such as Bloomberg's, she said: "There are people like Mayor Bloomberg who are, and that is perfectly fine."

'Trying to make a point'

Obama later issued a statement saying that she hadn't intended to weigh in on the Bloomberg plan "one way or the other".

"I was trying to make the point that every community is different and every solution is different and that I applaud local leaders including mayors, business leaders, parents, etc, who are taking this issue seriously and working towards solving this problem.

"But this is not something the administration is pursuing at a federal level and not something I'm specifically endorsing or condemning."

Last week, Bloomberg proposed limiting portion sizes of sugary drinks to half a litre at the city's restaurants, delis, food trucks, movie theatres and sporting arenas. Regular soda and sports drinks would be affected but not diet sodas.

The proposal is unpopular with most New Yorkers, according to a NY1-Marist poll conducted on Sunday. A majority of New York City residents said the proposal was a bad idea and 53% said it was more government going too far than good health policy to fight the problem of obesity. The ban is expected to win the approval of the Bloomberg-appointed Board of Health and take effect as early as March.

Obama spoke about the Bloomberg plan during an interview promoting her new book, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America. The $30 book, which came out last week, traces the story of the garden on the South Lawn and of gardens around the country as the starting point for a national conversation "about the food we eat, the lives we lead, and how all of that affects our children", as the first lady puts it.

Obama had just come from an appearance with Disney executives, where the company announced it would become the first major media company to ban junk food ads from its TV channels, radio stations and websites intended for children, starting in 2015.

Childhood obesity

Later in the day, she presented a garden-related Top 10 list on CBS' Late Show With David Letterman, in a taped segment from the White House Map Room.

Her top two picks:

No. 2: "The White House tool shed contains shovels, trowels and Weed Whacker One."

No. 1: "With enough care and effort you can grow your own Barack-oli," she said with a smile, holding up a large head of 'Barack-oli' with the president's faced etched into its green surface.

Next Tuesday, she'll do a book signing at a Barnes & Noble in Washington — for a limited number of customers who buy a book this week and get a special wristband.

It's all part of the first lady's all-out effort to combat childhood obesity without provoking a backlash by pushing too hard. Her high favourability ratings show she's largely been able to strike the right tone, a boon to her husband's re-election effort. But there is still sniping from some on the right who say they don't need a government lecture — or more intrusive steps — on what they eat or how they exercise.

Read more on:    michael bloomberg  |  michelle obama  |  us

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