Is this the same NAACP that passionately backed President Obama’s health reform law?
You know the law that stresses prevention as well as treatment? The one that, for many people, covers screenings for chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease – maladies that disproportionately plague black people? The one that also covers counseling for things such as losing weight and eating healthy?
From the looks of things, it seems that the New York chapter of that revered civil rights organization has decided that helping black people save their own lives comes second to helping soda sellers make a profit.
The group recently sided with the American Beverage Association, which is challenging a New York City ban on the sale of sugar-sweetened drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces. Come March, delis, restaurants, fast-food places and even food carts will have to adhere to the ban – which Mayor Michael Bloomberg argues will help strike a blow against the city’s high obesity rates.
Grocery stores and large convenience store chains such as 7-Eleven, however, are exempt – and that’s what worries the NAACP. It argues that the ban will hurt small business owners in black and Latino communities.
Questions have arisen as to whether the NAACP, as well as the Hispanic Federation, is opposing the ban because of its ties to big soft drinks companies such as Coca-Cola.
That’s a possibility.
But in fairness, the NAACP is right to be concerned about how certain laws affect people of color. Some, in fact, even question whether the soda ban will even make a dent in the city’s obesity rate if people who crave super-sized drinks can simply go to a supermarket or 7-Eleven and buy their poison there.
Me, I think the drink ban is a start – and if people can’t buy large sugary drinks conveniently, they’ll get used to it just like everyone eventually got used to indoor smoking bans.
I also think that a better strategy for the NAACP, or at least a strategy that takes into account the health of the black people it claims to care about as well as the viability of the small business owners, would be to work with Bloomberg on closing the regulatory loophole that allows 7-Eleven to still sell oversized drinks, or to seek some other kind of equitable solution.
A bad strategy is to outright oppose the soda ban to keep certain businesses thriving at the cost of black people dying.
And make no mistake, obesity is sickening and killing a lot of us.
According to The New York Times, which quoted city health department figures, about 70 percent of black New Yorkers and 66 percent of Latino New Yorkers are overweight or obese.
Obesity is what drives chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. According to the Office of Minority Health, the heart disease death rate for black people is 239 per 100,000 compared to 180 per 100,000 for white people.
And diabetes is ravaging black people. The rate of black people being treated for terminal kidney disease as a result of diabetes is 368.7 per 100,000 in the diabetic population, compared to 151.7 per 100,000 in that same population for white people.
Soft drinks are major contributors to obesity. They have no nutritional value, and can even harm bones and teeth. It’s not unusual, in fact, to see young children in poor communities with rotted primary teeth. Many get that way because they drink a lot of sugary fruit drinks and sodas.
In a way, it’s kind of sad that small businesses in communities of color have to rely on selling unhealthy things to people in order to compete. Maybe an answer is to find a way to help those stores push healthier products and become a catalyst in changing the consumption habits of the people they serve.
There must be another solution – because the problem for the NAACP right now is that it’s trying to serve two masters. If it cares about health reform, it looks hypocritical for it to oppose legislation designed to help people take charge of their health.
Because ultimately, even the small businesses the organization claims it’s trying to protect by opposing the sugary drink ban won’t have many people to sell to – especially if diabetes and other illnesses caused by obesity continues to kill off their clientele.
Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her @tonyaajw. Or visit her webpage and blog, “Tonyaa’s Take,” at www.tonyaajweathersbee.com.