Home Health News Most Obese State In the US Bans Any Food-Related Laws

Most Obese State In the US Bans Any Food-Related Laws

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Because I’d written more than I’d like to about a law I felt unconstitutional and paternalistic, no matter how well-intended, I was going to lay off contributing to the flurry of “Ooooh, you got tolllld, Bloomberg!!!11111ONE” posts that littered the Internet. I was even gonna lay off dissing on soda for the day.

But this just…. felt creepy:

To that end, the people who govern the state with the highest rate of obesity in the nation have passed a bill saying that any law that might restrict what Mississippians eat or drink has to go through them — barring federal regulations.

That means that cities or counties cannot enact rules limiting soda size, salt content, shortening in cookies, toys in fast-food meals for children, how a menu is written or just about any other aspect of the daily dining experience in Mississippi.

The bill, which is on the desk of Gov. Phil Bryant and is likely to get a swift signature, is unique not only in its approach to managing the state’s diet but also in its timing.

Mississippi wants to protect your right to eat 20. Of these.

Mississippi wants to protect your right to eat 20. Of these.

Informally, legislators are calling it the anti-Bloomberg bill, a reference to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, whose attempt to limit the size of sugar-laced drinks was shot down by a state judge this week.

It is easy to view the new Mississippi law with an ironic eye. As Representative Omeria Scott, a Democrat, pointed out during the debate on the bill, “Mississippi is the fattest and most unhealthy state in the U.S.A.”

But the legislation is the latest and most sweeping expression of a nationwide battle in which some government officials, public health leaders and food supply reformers are pitted against those who would prefer the government quit trying to control what people eat.

“I can’t defend what the statistics show about obesity,” said Senator Tony Smith, the owner of Stonewall’s Barbecue in Picayune, Miss., who introduced the bill after being approached by the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association. “But this is about personal responsibility. When I go out to eat with my three daughters they get waters. I don’t need the government to tell me to do that.”

Also signing on to the bill were associations that represent sellers of soft drinks and owners of convenience stores, as well as the farm bureau and the Mississippi Poultry Association.

…but wait! There’s more:

But Mississippi’s law appears to be the broadest in scope. Cities and counties cannot limit portion sizes or require calorie counts on menus or restrict the sale of food based on how it was grown, which would protect food made with genetically modified grain, a growing concern among some consumers, as well as the way livestock is raised.

Similarly, only the state can control zoning laws that would restrict some restaurants and favor others or mandate labeling of seeds that would force what proponents of the bill call “an organic agenda.”

Mike Cashion, the director of the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association, said the point of the bill was to avoid having a patchwork of regulations that would be difficult to enforce and put a burden on small-business owners.

“We see the writing on the wall with what’s happened in other parts of the country and we want to make sure we stay one step ahead of the process,” he said.

Still, discussion as the bill made its way through the Legislature was often more about food and health than concerns over regulations.

In its government blog, The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson recorded this exchange between lawmakers:

“We’ve got an obesity problem in the state of Mississippi, haven’t we? Of major proportions. Childhood obesity especially. Do you think that immoderate use of a Coca-Cola is good for a man?” asked Representative Steve Holland, a Democrat who voted for the bill.

“I don’t see where it would kill him,” answered Representative Gregory Holloway, a Democrat who fought for the bill by arguing that “if you want to go eat 20 Big Macs, you can eat 20 Big Macs.”

“All right, what about the excessive use of a Coca-Cola? If you drink 10, 15 a day?” Mr. Holland countered.

“Probably would have some effect on your kidneys,” Mr. Holloway answered.

“Dang sure would,” said Mr. Holland.

Listen. I had an awfully hard time not believing this was from The Onion.

I was thankful that the city requires certain restaurants to post their calorie counts. I don’t go in those places too often, but I know that when I step into a starbucks, I’d better stop playing and just get my regular coffee. Those calorie counts remind me.

I like things that add opportunities for education to my life. I’m not here for being told what I can and can’t drink, and I’m not here for being told what I could or couldn’t sell. That’s not okay.


All flaws with the BMI chart considered,] Mississippi is the most obese state in the union. Like, it isn’t even close. Even by self-reported figures, Louisiana is next in line by over a full percentage point. The state legislature couldn’t have found a more productive use of its time?

It’s one thing to want to discourage paternalistic legislation, but this felt sooooooo much more like a high-five to the “you’ll pry my big gulp from my cold, dead, diabetic fingers” crowd than it did an actual concern for constitutional freedom [to kill yourself].

Am I missing something, here?


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Carol March 19, 2013 - 1:45 AM

I think is very much a cultural thing in America. America prides itself on free choice. In fact in Europe I have heard America described in the following way: You have an absolutely huge range of freedoms, right down to being able to carry a fire arm, but if you violate the law, law enforcement will come down on you like a ton of bricks. I think this is true because when I see sentencing in the US I think it’s incredible (and actually mostly correct,whereas our sentencing is far too light).
I think this food issue infringes on American’s deeply held view on individual freedom. Someone telling them what to eat! Insane! But for me, they are cutting off their nose to spite their face. In your article someone says when they’re children go out they drink water and she doesn’t need a governor telling her what to give her kids to drink – but what about children with totally useless ignorant parents? Who protects those children? They don’t have parents to educate them on the danger of these drinks when consumed excessively. Society needs to provide a safety net for them. To help those children help themselves. I think if Mississippi will learn it’s lesson in time when it has a generation of people who will die younger than their parents from obesity issues, when the state can no longer support the burden of health care in treating them…. and then they’ll wonder how important their big macs and giant colas were.

Hillary March 19, 2013 - 9:53 AM

It’s a shame, food packed with empty calories engineered to be addictive. People have to take control of their diet! Great post!

T.R. March 19, 2013 - 1:25 PM

I’m going to just say this had NOTHING to do with ones right to choose and everything to do with MONEY…. Just look at who the sponsors are. I’ll agree that gov’t doesn’t always do things well, but I BET if you look at the fine print on that bill, it’ll outlaw other things like education and make it more difficult for businesses, farmers, cattle/pig farmers who are trying to avoid the chemicals etc. to get their products to market and compete effectively. I saw those zoning laws.

I’m southern and as much as I love US I know us. Especially when we are trying to make sure them damn Yankees don’t come down and try and tell us what to do. We’d shoot ourselves in the foot, just for spite.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 19, 2013 - 3:02 PM

WHEW, this is a good point. I wonder if I can get a look at the bill. It’d be interesting if it was full of all that stuff, huh?

Eva March 19, 2013 - 2:51 PM

I guess everybody has a right to kill themselves if they want to. I get so ticked off when people complain about “Big Government telling us what to do, that’s why I vote Republican, because they’re against big government.” Yet, the very same people complain when the government doesn’t get them their FEMA money fast enough. Small government means NO FEMA, and NO FDA, so you have to figure out for yourselves what you’re eating.

I don’t mind the Bloomberg law at all and I’ve lived in NYC all my life. In the 1990’s they used to sell this junk in poor neighborhoods in NYC, it cost only a quarter and it was a small container filled with water, sugar and food coloring.

The thing is, companies who make these big sodas, sell them to certain communities because they know no one will complain and people will eat and drink them right up. Coca Cola has billions of dollars to try and get you to drink their poison, but the government only has millions to educate you.

Shannon LC Cate March 19, 2013 - 4:15 PM

Yeah, I think there’s a big difference between telling people what or how much they can eat and hiding information that they WANT. If it’s about “personal responsibility” then people need information to make a responsible choice. People should also be allowed to support or not support farming practices they believe in or don’t believe in and they have a right to know what practices are behind the food they eat.

I didn’t mind the Bloomberg thing. Want 32oz of soda? Buy two. Nobody said you couldn’t sell it, buy it or drink it, just that you had to put it in a certain kind of cup. To me that’s not so different from a calorie count. When you get 32 oz. of soda, you’re getting two. In fact, you’re getting two larges. So let the cup represent that.

Anna March 19, 2013 - 5:00 PM

I like Mississippi’s move. Who is the government to tell me what and how much I may or may not eat?

annie March 19, 2013 - 10:28 PM

this post is, and much of the coverage has been, wrong. one of the main purposes of the bill was to keep food costs low. a patchwork of regulation that varies from county to county or city to city creates higher food prices. companies have to comply with labeling laws and they certainly don’t do it out of their benevolence or without passing costs on.

read the bill. read posts *from* mississippi, as they are a bit more representative than NYT coverage. think critically.


Erika Nicole Kendall March 20, 2013 - 7:31 AM

LMAO @ “think critically.”

And, yes, because there’s such hard hitting legitimate journalism coming out of Mississippi, that you linked THOSE articles here as we– oh, wait. You didn’t.

I don’t have a problem with doing my research, and am thankful that you linked the bill here. But don’t tell me to “think critically” when the FIRST PAGE OF THE BILL SAYS THE FOLLOWING:


with nutrition labeling being identified as:

“”Food nutrition information” includes, but is not limited to, the caloric, fat, carbohydrate, cholesterol, fiber, sugar, potassium, protein, vitamin, mineral, sodium, and allergen content of food. “Food nutrition information” also includes the designation of food as healthy or unhealthy.”

So, Annie, how does banning a city from requiring ALLERGEN CONTENT LABELING keep food costs low?

Let me tell you something: the idea that requiring labeling of positive and negative qualities of certain foods raises food costs is….a myth. Not only have prices NOT raised in New York City, but guess what – capitalists DID THEIR DAMN JOBS. They figured out ways to still get the people what they wanted within the defined parameters. Food corporations know their customers, AND their wallets. They KNOW that any changes they make have to be without a price hike, and they know how to provide that. Always have. To imply otherwise is…hilarious. Subverting the ability of any local government to define their OWN parameters – which is THEIR JOBS if they so chose, by the way – is not only the laziest and most pathetic form OF capitalism, but it’s obfuscating the public’s desire to learn about what they’re consuming. It’s interfering with the most important PART of a “free market” – ensuring that the information necessary to make the transaction is available to all who wish to have it.

Don’t come on my blog spouting some “Ohhh, it’s keeping food costs low” bullshit and tell me to think critically. You’re parroting corporate waah waah memes, girl; you wouldn’t know “critical” if you were in the ER.

Find me a post, “*from* Mississippi,” that discusses and refutes WHAT I JUST SAID IN THIS COMMENT, and then I’ll give it the time it deserves. But not a moment before.

L. January 28, 2014 - 8:22 PM

@Erica-This is why I love reading this website! You are so damn smart and always have a WELL-INFORMED reason for coming to a particular conclusion about something. I love the way you checked this self righteous fool “annie” who had the nerve to try and belittle your ability to think critically. “annie” ,who sounds a lot like a conservative-bot, said nothing to discredit the fact that the interests of corporations, rather then the interests of consumers taking precedence with this law. Why shouldn’t a town or a county be able to use zoning to limit the amount of fast food restaurants in their neighborhoods? That’s insane.

Erika Nicole Kendall January 29, 2014 - 12:31 AM


Brie March 24, 2013 - 12:12 PM

reason # 365 never to go to Mississippi

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