Coalition for a Healthy and Active America

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The Coalition for a Healthy and Active America (CHAA) was founded in 2003 "to educate parents, children, schools, and communities about the vital roles physical fitness and nutrition education play in reversing the trend of childhood obesity, its negative impact on the health of our youth and the public health risks it poses," according to its website. CHAA is headquartered in Tampa, FL, and has "active coalitions in 14 states." [1]

Pro-Activity Activists

CHAA stresses the importance of physical activity, for both children and adults. CHAA has promoted walking to school in Kentucky (Lexington Herald Leader, Sept. 22, 2004); encouraged office workers to walk during their lunch break in Arkansas (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 17, 2004); and, during National Minority Health Month in Washington state, advocated for "a rededication to physical fitness" as "the most important step in fighting childhood obesity" (PR Newswire, Apr. 29, 2004).

CHAA also urges parents and other authority figures to form an "educational model relationship" with children, in order to combat obesity. [2] The Palm Beach Post (Apr. 21, 2004) reported that "CHAA nutritionist Tom Petty" was urging parents "to barrel ahead with efforts to slim down their children and not wait for the government to set up school programs or other approaches to the problem." This included after-dinner family walks; "Put down the remote," Petty said.

A Sugary Blind Spot

However, CHAA's benevolent message becomes suspect in light of their ties to sugary soda manufacturer Coca-Cola Enterprises.

The Coca-Cola Tour

The Orlando Business Journal (Nov. 14, 2003) reported on a two-person CHAA delegation traveling through Florida "to promote the coalition and generate interest in its programs." The Journal wrote, "Although sodas are frequently identifled as a nutritional problem for youngsters, it was Coca-Cola Enterprises that provided the seed money for the group to come to Florida."

The members of the delegation were CHAA statewide coordinator Ana Cruz and J. Patrick Baskette, a paid lobbyist for Coca-Cola. Baskette's lobbying firm, Dewey Square Group, calls itself a "preeminent grassroots management firm." [3] DSG specializes in getting "prominent local citizens and organizations to lobby on behalf of interest groups." [4]

Beware Food Bans and Taxes

"One day after Columbia Public Schools officials endorsed banning sales of soda and other 'unhealthy' foods at middle schools and junior highs, a group sponsored by the soft-drink industry criticized such moves and instead said a focus on exercise is the solution to childhood obesity," reported the Columbia Daily Tribune (Missouri, May 1, 2003).

The group mentioned was the just-formed Missouri CHAA chapter, which stressed in a press release, "Nutrition education should be expanded and modernized. ... Be cautious of food bans and taxes. Dietary restrictions only encourage overindulgence by those most at risk."

CHAA Founders

Luz Gomez Pardini, the program manager for Contra Costa Health Services Nutrition and Physical Activity Project in California, wrote to the Contra Costa Times (Nov. 9, 2003) that CHAA "is nothing more than a public relations ploy by Coca-Cola to redirect public opinion away from limiting children's access to soda and exclusively toward the importance of physical activity and nutrition education." She continued:

After visiting the coalition's Web page, I discovered disturbing information about CHAA. According to an internal memo posted on its site (Internal Q and A, CHAA, Organization and Structure, Draft, March 24, 2003), their "prominent founding members" are all paid by Coca-Cola, a fact it is only willing to disclose "if pressed."

Among CHAA's Founding Members [5] are Minyon Moore, another Dewey Square Group lobbyist; John H. Downs, Jr, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs of Coca-Cola Enterprises; Jaime A. Molera, a member of Coca-Cola's Council for Corporate & School Partnerships [6]; and J.C. Watts, Jr, a former member of Congress whose leadership political action committee, called GROWPAC, counts Coca-Cola among its top contributors. [7]

Kids Will Drink Soda

The Frequently Asked Questions section of CHAA's webiste also seems to reflect Coca-Cola's influence: [8]

  • Q: Is there any one "bad" food that makes kids fat?
  • A: Childhood obesity is a very complex issue and its blame is rooted in many factors. Eating a slice of pizza for lunch or enjoying a beverage at a family party will not cause your child to become overweight and obese. Health experts agree that obesity is caused by a multitude of factors, and primarily stems from a lack of physical activity (burning too few calories) in addition to a poor diet (consuming too many calories). In fact, the American Dietetic Association has stated that all food and beverages can have a place in a balanced eating pattern.
  • Q: Should my child be able to drink any of the beverage choices at school?
  • A: Children are faced with decisions about what to eat and drink each day. If not at school, children will make nutritional decisions at the grocery store, at a friend's house, at the movies, and many other places. Our schools serve a valuable role in helping our children develop values and make important choices. That is why CHAA believes it is important to educate kids about nutrition and about maintaining an active lifestyle. Kids have a variety of choices available to them; water, juice, sports drinks, milk-based products and other beverages are available at most schools. Studies have found that once a food item is banned from children, their desire for that item increases exponentially. Restrictions do not offer our children the opportunity to make wise decisions about their health. By teaching our children about nutrition at home and at school, they will learn to make responsible nutritional decisions throughout their lifetime.
  • Q: Will additional government laws solve the problem of childhood obesity?
  • A: We cannot let shortsighted reactions to childhood obesity deter us from finding real, long-term solutions. United States Department of Agriculture nutrition regulations already exist, as well as many state and local laws. Governmental regulations on pizza, potato chips, or other food and beverages will not eliminate the growing problem of obesity. When it comes to making good decisions about eating and choosing refreshments, providing variety rather than dictating restrictions will be more successful...

Contact Information

Coalition for a Healthy and Active America
P.O. Box 387
301 West Platt Street
Tampa, FL 33606

Phone: (866) 881-7666

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