Barbour vetoes creation of Miss. obesity council

Published 1:35 pm Friday, April 29, 2011

Mississippi is the most obese state in the nation, but Republican Gov. Haley Barbour says it doesn’t need another layer of bureaucracy to study the issue.

Barbour has vetoed a bill that proposed creating a 34-member council on combating obesity. He said it duplicates programs that have been in place for years.

“This bill simply adds to the fat of state government,” Barbour wrote in his veto message, which was signed Tuesday and released Wednesday.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

A governor’s commission on physical fitness was established in 1992 and still exists. A 2007 state law required every school district to adopt a wellness program. A statewide council for obesity prevention and management was passed in 2001 and dissolved in 2006.

The bill’s sponsor was House Public Health Committee Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, who has lost 140 pounds in the past 2  1/2 years through surgery, diet and exercise.

Holland said he’s disappointed by the veto. He said the council would’ve served without pay and produced the kind of comprehensive report that’s never been done in Mississippi, showing what works and what doesn’t.

“There was nothing sinister about that,” Holland said. “Obesity has become the number one health problem in our state.”

The bill said obesity council members would’ve been appointed by the governor, members of the Legislature and representatives from several state agencies. The council also would’ve had members from the Mississippi State Medical Association, the YMCA, the Beverage Association of Mississippi and Mississippi Chapter of the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

The group would’ve studied several issues, including ways to provide nutrition counseling and after-hours fitness programs in schools. Members were also supposed to examine the economic impact of treating obesity.

“While I appreciate the legislative efforts to address this problem, I do not believe that another bureaucratic entity is the way to successfully change the culture of obesity in our state,” Barbour wrote. “Government officials, including legislators, have already made significant strides by setting a good example for their constituents by engaging in an intensive diet and exercise fitness challenge for the past two years.”

During the legislative session that ran from early January through early April, dozens of legislators, state employees and others participated in a fitness program with rigorous early morning workouts. Participants shed more than 3,000 pounds.

Last June, an annual report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation listed Mississippi as the country’s fattest state for the sixth year in the row. Mississippi had the highest rates of physical inactivity and hypertension and the second highest rate of diabetes.

Holland said that as a legislative committee chairman, he might form a group to study obesity — similar to the one Barbour vetoed.

The bill is House Bill 924.