Mayor Nutter picks wrong place for stand against soda industry

During last year's debate over a "soda tax" in Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter talked with Angela Quitola, of the Holmesburg section. Her husband is a recent hire at Coca-Cola and she was afraid this "soda tax" could cause him to lose his job. The soda tax failed in City Council, but Nutter is still fighting excess sugar in Philadelphian's diets.

With half of Philadelphia’s children overweight or obese, city health officials are in no position to reject any legitimate offer of help with this public-health crisis — even if it comes from the soft-drink industry.

But Mayor Nutter has refused a Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia offer to bring an industry-funded antiobesity program to city health centers. In effect, he is making kids who are battling the bulge into innocent pawns in a political fight over slapping a tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks.

No matter the industry’s motivations in funding it, the CHOP program would have expanded legitimate efforts by doctors and other health professionals to identify children at risk for obesity and related illnesses. Then, they would develop early interventions to help the kids.

That sounds like a good complement to the city’s own antiobesity efforts, which include promoting exercise and encouraging good nutrition. The campaign uses federal stimulus dollars that go away next year.

But in the mayor’s view, the soft-drink industry should be regarded as a pariah — just like the gun lobby and tobacco companies. As Nutter posted on Twitter Tuesday afternoon, “Taking money from Big Soda to fight obesity is like taking money from the NRA to fight guns. You can’t buy this City Hall.”

It’s a principled stand “that opposes the products” these industries sell, explains the city’s health commissioner, Donald F. Schwarz. But it might strike the many Philadelphians who pop open a soda can from time to time as a real stretch.


Should Mayor Nutter accept soda money to fight obesity?

Bullets are deadly, and tobacco products lead to what the World Health Organization estimates are one in 10 adult deaths worldwide. While soft drinks are a culprit in childhood obesity, they’re hardly lethal in the same way as weapons and cigarettes.

And why stop at refusing this soda industry money? Nutter could return campaign donations from local philanthropists who happen to bottle nearly 20 percent of the city’s soft drinks. Certainly, he should stop showing up at restaurant ribbon-cuttings where high-calorie offerings are on the menu — much less repeat his May visit to a new doughnut shop.

Or the administration could accept the soft-drink industry’s assistance through Children’s Hospital. Then, Nutter could turn around and prove that he’s still independent by renewing his effort to persuade City Council to pass a soda tax.