Study: Kansas strictest in limiting control of food policy

photo by: Associated Press

In this Monday, Oct. 1, 2018 file photo, soft drinks fill a drink cooler in a convenience store in Kent, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

KANSAS CITY, KAN. — Kansas goes farther than any other state in limiting state and local agencies from influencing policy about food nutrition labels and portion sizes, according to a recent study.

A study published this month by New York University researcher Jennifer Pomeranz found that Kansas does more to limit the authority of local governments on food policy than any of the 13 other states with similar legislation, the Kansas News Service reported.

Kansas’ pre-emption law, which went into effect in 2016, prevents local authorities from restricting portion sizes, taxing soda and sugary drinks and banning “incentive items,” such as toys in a McDonald’s Happy Meal. The law applies to counties, school districts, councils and other local government agencies, which are prohibited from enacting restrictive food policies.

Similar bills have cropped up across the country in recent years, but Pomeranz said Kansas’ law goes further than others by limiting the state Legislature’s power.

“The state basically handed over to the federal government control of these issues,” she said. “It’s basically saying ‘we’re not acting, and the locals can’t act either.'”

Kansas health advocates felt the legislation didn’t reflect what they were trying to accomplish in the state, said Missty Lechner of the American Heart Association in Kansas.

“No one was talking about wanting to ban soda sizes,” Lechner said.

Localities were instead looking into policies such as requiring park concession stands to provide health options with other typical snack foods. But some groups have been deterred by the state’s pre-emption law ever since, she said.

Natasha Frost, an attorney at the Public Health Law Center, said the law’s language can be confusing, so it’s unclear what local rules are permitted. The issue has created a “chilling effect,” where local authorities avoid such policies.

“Where we’re concerned is where innovative ideas might be stifled,” Frost said.


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