Obama Administration Using Stimulus Money to Encourage ‘Healthful Lifestyle Habits’

By Susan Jones | September 18, 2009 | 11:07 AM EDT

The Health and Human Services Department is urging communities to pass “clean indoor-air laws” that bar cigarette smoking. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The Health and Human Services Department plans to spend $650 million tax dollars encouraging Americans to develop "healthful lifestyle habits."
Healthy habits should be "the natural first choice for Americans," HHS said as it announced that $373 million in stimulus funds are now available for communities and tribes to spend on projects that increase physical activity, improve nutrition, decrease obesity, and reduce smoking in U.S. communities.
The $373 million for the “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” will be awarded through a competitive selection process.
“This initiative will make disease prevention and health promotion top priorities in states and communities across the country,” Sebelius said. “Preventing disease is vital as a strategy to improve our nation’s health and reduce health care costs.”
So what can communities do? According to HHS, they can improve access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity. Specifically, they can “work to make high-fat snack foods and sugar-sweetened beverages less available in schools and in other community sites.”
Communities can also pass “clean indoor-air laws” that bar smoking. And HHS said some of the money may be spent on ads promoting healthy choices.
Communities and tribes receiving the stimulus money will have two years to complete their work.
The rest of the $650 million ($277 million) will spent on supporting, extending and evaluating the impact of the community projects.
“The CDC is excited to have this opportunity to help states and communities do more to deliver proven prevention strategies, in ways that reach whole communities and populations,” said CDC Director Thomas Frieden. (The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is leading the “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” initiative.)
“Chronic diseases linked to obesity, poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and tobacco use are the leading causes of death and disability in our nation. These additional resources will improve the quality of life for millions of Americans,” Frieden said.
Communities interested in applying for the “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” grants can find more information at www.grants.gov. The application deadline for the community projects is Dec. 1, 2009.
Soda tax?
In a recent interview with “Men’s Health” magazine, President Barack Obama said the idea of taxing soda and sugary drinks is something “that we should be exploring.”
"There's no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda,” Obama said in the interview released last week. “And every study that's been done about obesity shows that there is as high a correlation between increased soda consumption and obesity as just about anything else."
This week, the “New England Journal of Medicine” called for a penny-per-ounce tax on soda.
But critics, including the American Beverage Association, argue that a soda tax won’t reduce obesity. “You just can’t tax someone to better health,” the group argues. It says a soft drink tax “has far more to do with a money grab by big government to pay for even bigger government.”
The Center for Consumer Freedom, a food and restaurant industry group, points to an analysis showing that, to actually make a dent in the obesity rates, Congress would need a 1,200 percent tax on soda – which works out to $9 in tax on a 75-cent can.
"The tax code shouldn't be a tool for social engineering," said J. Justin Wilson, senior research analyst at the Center. "Nor should it be an instrument for penalizing individuals who make food choices that some people in government don't like."