If you watched the Superbowl in the DC area this year, you may have noticed an atypical ad among the $3 million spots. It featured a woman doing her grocery shopping while complaining to viewers that “[f]eeding a family is difficult enough in today’s economy. Now some politicians want the government telling me how I should do it. They want to put new taxes on a lot of groceries I buy, like soft drinks, juice drinks, sports drinks, even flavored waters.” She had my attention: food and nutrition have turned into political hot potatoes since Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign picked up steam and Sarah Palin started handing out cookies at school.
“Give me a break,” the commercial’s star mom continued, “I can decide what to buy without government help.” I wondered which group was funding this ad. A little research revealed it to be the American Beverage Association, whose website says its members are “producers, marketers, and distributors of non-alcoholic beverages.” Surprise! The makers of sodas, “juice drinks” (whose name betrays their distance from actual juice), etc. are against taxing them.
What grates me most about this ad is the implication that without new food taxes, consumer choices at the grocery store are currently free from government influence. That’s ridiculous. It’s government subsidies (funded by–gasp!–taxpayers) that support the production of the corn used in the high-fructose corn syrup that makes those same soft drinks and juice drinks so cheap.
In addition, by pointing its finger at “the government,” the ad may mislead viewers into thinking that the US Congress or President Obama are supporting new beverage taxes. In fact, bills proposing such measures are currently pending only in 11 state legislatures.
Companies who stand to gain from the sales of sugary beverages aren’t the only ones mounting an ad campaign to influence consumers. The New York City Department of Health has been running TV and subway ads graphically illustrating the adverse health effects of sugary beverage consumption since 2009. They’re disgusting–and powerful. Watching them, it’s hard to imagine feeling good about “feeding the family” with these drinks.