Filed Under: Soft Drinks

The Robert Wood Johnson Soda Ban

Even before the famously anti-alcohol Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) officially declared obesity one of its priority concerns, the $8 billion health cop had awarded a grant of $722,925 to anti-soda activist Harold Goldstein.

On Thursday of last week, the California Assembly voted to eliminate the sale of soda in elementary schools, and restrict it in middle schools. The Associated Press reported:

If passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Gray Davis, the bill would make California the first state to adopt a soda ban, said Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that supports the bill. “It’s a watershed event.”

But as we reported last week, Texas has already banned soda in elementary schools. Nearly 50 major newspapers picked up the story with Goldstein’s gaffe.

The California bill was sponsored by reliable soda-phobe Deborah Ortiz (D-CSPI), who originally wanted a total ban in high schools as well. But Democratic Assemblyman Dario Frommer noted: “Some members feel if you’re old enough to go to war and vote you’re old enough to have a Pepsi on campus.”

At last year’s annual conference of the American Public Health Association (APHA), Goldstein — who has served as APHA’s “Action Board Chair” — revealed his motives during a session called “Challenging the Fast Food Culture.” An aide to Senator Ortiz discussed how she and Goldstein “put on our public-health thinking caps” and decided to seek “sin” taxes on soda (click here for video). Goldstein himself argued:

People will say that this obesity epidemic is only a matter of personal responsibility. We in public health know differently. (click here for video).

Crucially, Goldstein also discussed how a grant from RWJF was helping him “to build a movement nationwide with all of you, so we can change this fast-food culture” (click here for video).

Goldstein’s group used their RWJF money to build a database of childhood weight and weight-related health problems — helpfully broken down by California Assembly and Senate district. At a June 16 Institute of Medicine workshop, Goldstein explained the power of this database. He approaches lawmakers whose constituents have more overweight children than the norm, and encourages them to sponsor legislation that targets specific foods and beverages.

“We went to [CA State Senator] Martha Escutia,” Goldstein told the audience, “and showed her that more people were dying in her district from diabetes than anywhere else in LA County. And out of that one meeting came SB19” — an earlier attempt by California health activists to exert greater control over school children’s diets. (Goldstein’s group asserts that it was the “sponsor” of SB 19.) He closed by saying: “We need to remember that sodas and schools are just entry points to address the bigger issues [including] the millions and millions of dollars spent on advertising.”

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