CHICAGO — Soft-drink machines in Chicago and San Antonio government buildings will carry calorie information and city workers will be able to win cash in a health competition paid for by Coca-Cola and other beverage giants under a plan unveiled Monday.
Other places are giving the boot to soda machines or taxing sugary drinks, but Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said this approach to the health issue is better because it emphasizes personal responsibility.
City workers in Chicago and San Antonio will compete for a $5 million grant from the American Beverage Association to see which workforce is healthier. The nationwide soda lobbying group will also pay $1,000 to individual workers who meet as-yet unspecified health-care goals.
The group said soda vending machines in the two cities’ municipal buildings will be among the first in the country to get calorie-count displays next year before the program is rolled out nationwide.
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New York City adopted a rule last month barring many types of businesses from selling sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces.
Appearing Monday at City Hall with representatives of the Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper companies, Emanuel said he doesn’t want to pursue cola serving-size limits like New York’s or to approve a proposed tax on sugary drinks.
Emanuel said the program isn’t a payoff from the cola industry to avoid more punitive measures.
“I believe firmly in personal responsibility,” the mayor said at a City Hall news conference with the pop-company executives. “I believe in competition, and I believe in cash rewards for people that actually make progress in managing their health care.”
“If you basically put aside personal responsibility, you’re missing the core ingredient for improving health outcomes,” he added when asked about a tax on the drinks.
Susan Neely, president and CEO of the American Beverage Association, said those types of curbs don’t work.
“We think these kind of things are going to get a lot further faster than bans or fights over discriminatory taxes, which there’s research after research that says they will not work, they will not change behavior,” Neely said at the news conference with Emanuel.
Soda vending machines in city government buildings will sport new labels on selection buttons that show how many calories are in each drink. The trade association said the Calories Count Vending Program also includes adding signage reminding consumers to think about calories and increasing the availability of lower-calorie selections.
“Everyone who works in or visits a municipal building in Chicago and San Antonio will know exactly how many calories are in their favorite beverages before making a vending machine purchase,” Neely said in a statement.
Emanuel said the exact parameters of the health competition are still being worked out, but mentioned losing weight and quitting smoking as likely benchmarks that could earn a worker money.
The American Beverage Association said the new program complements previous initiatives, such as putting new calorie labels on beverage packaging and removing full-calorie soft drinks from schools.
Sugary drinks have been a focus in the country’s debate over rising obesity rates among adults and children.
Steve Cahillane, president and CEO of Coca-Cola Refreshments, said it’s unfair to simply target soda when looking for causes of America’s obesity problems.
“Sugar-sweetened beverages, on average, are about 7 percent of the diet. Because we’re part of the diet, then of course we’re part of a problem, but it’s a broad problem and it’s energy balance: calories in, calories out,” he said.