Legislative proposal opposed by health groups

Health First Wisconsin, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, the Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association, and the Childhood Obesity Prevention Collaborative, together, oppose the Joint Committee on Finance’s budget provision that prevents local governments from promoting healthier choices for kids and families.

The effects of the budget provision (Motion #150) will go far beyond the motion’s stated purpose of preventing local “Bloomberg Big Gulp” soda size restrictions.

The far-reaching motion could prevent local communities from promoting nutritious food choices in parks, neighborhoods and businesses and could also severely limit employee wellness programs that promote healthier habits and reduce health care costs.

Public health advocates are calling on the Legislature to remove the provision from the budget to allow for a thorough public debate and analysis of the consequences of this legislation.

“Wisconsin communities need additional tools to ensure that our kids have a pathway to a long, healthy life – not fewer tools,” Maureen Busalacchi, executive director of Health First Wisconsin, said. “This ban takes options off the table for Wisconsin communities working to give local kids and residents opportunities for healthier eating and a roadmap to better health.”

Motion #150 is a classic example of preemption, which occurs when state government revokes the authority of local governments to make their own policies. The measure silences local voices and prevents local officials from responding to unique local health needs.

“Eating right and being active are significant factors in preventing chronic diseases like cancer,” said Allison Miller, Wisconsin government relations director with the American Cancer Society-Cancer Action Network. “Wisconsin should be protecting and encouraging good health policy to reduce the number of cancer diagnoses and deaths in our state, not eliminating the power of local governments to find creative solutions to encourage healthy choices.”

Public health groups are still trying to determine the effects of this vague measure, which was adopted without public debate or research. The budget motion is part of a national movement to eliminate local control on healthy eating. Similar actions to preempt local nutrition standards have been pursued in other states including Mississippi, North Carolina and Ohio.

The following common municipal efforts might no longer be possible under state law (if they are interpreted that they regulate the size, calorie count, or nutritional quality of food or beverage sales):

Economic Development: Tax incentives, zoning, and planning that have the express purpose of promoting healthy food through grocery stores, farmers markets, food carts and community gardens.

Employee Wellness: City and county policies that save health insurance premiums by establishing wellness programs and nutrition standards for government employees and buildings.

Youth Recreation: Offering healthy food vending options in local government facilities including recreation centers, parks and public pools.

“Among children today, obesity is causing a broad range of health problems that previously weren’t seen until adulthood, including an increased risk for heart disease, our nation’s No. 1 killer,” said Chris Klein, Government Relations Director for the American Heart Association. “We should be providing solutions to help communities become healthier, not removing them.

The JFC budget containing this provision now goes on for a vote on the Assembly and Senate floors before reaching Governor Walker’s desk. Advocates believe that the far-reaching, and perhaps unintended, consequences of this motion should warrant a full public discussion.