Former NBA star O'Neal is not an appropriate child obesity spokesman thanks to selling his Soda Shaq, says Center for Science in the Public Interest...
UPDATE: CLICK HERE for the post about the First Lady and O'Neal's event
Washington, DC - Public health activists are questioning First Lady Michelle Obama's new Let's Move! partnership with hoops legend Shaquille O'Neal, saying the iconic former NBA player's line of sugary beverages, 'Soda Shaq,' puts him squarely out of bounds as a spokesman for child obesity.
Formerly a star of the Los Angeles Lakers, O'Neal will join Mrs. Obama this Friday at Orr Elementary School in Anacostia as she announces new commitments for Let's Move! Active Schools, a component of her campaign promoting physical activity.
But today Margo Wootan, Policy Director for Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), decried both O'Neal's line of sodas, produced by AriZona Beverages, and his appearance with Mrs. Obama.
Like many other health activists, Wootan has been consulted by the White House on child nutrition issues.
"No one's a bigger fan of the First Lady's Let's
Move initiative than we are," Wootan said.
"But it's not appropriate to include
prominent endorsers of sugary drinks and junk food in photo-ops or
events aimed at promoting Let's Move! or other anti-obesity initiatives."
Soda is one of the few foods reliably linked to obesity in a number of major studies, and has become a flashpoint among nutrition experts. Launched earlier this summer, Soda Shaq is available in vanilla, strawberry, blueberry and orange cream sodas, and sold in oversized cans, each featuring images of O'Neal.
"Sugary drinks are one of the leading culprits behind
obesity in kids and adults, and one of the most important messages
coming out of an anti-obesity campaign should be for Americans to drink
fewer sugary drinks," Wootan said.
"Shaquille O'Neal's new line of sugar drinks have 270 empty, obesogenic calories in every oversize can."
And 72 grams of sugar, which translates to 17 teaspoons per can, according to CSPI, which also blasted O'Neal when his soda line debuted. For comparison's sake, a 20 ounce bottle of Coca Cola has 65 grams of sugar.
AriZona Beverages touts Soda Shaq as a "guilt free" indulgence, saying it has "only 90 calories per serving," overlooking the fact that the pop-top 23.5 ounce can is not resealable.
"Fans can satisfy their sweet tooth without the guilt from the very first clean and refreshing sip," AriZona says in publicity materials.
CSPI also pointed out that O'Neal has publicly said he shys away from soda, and that he is particularly health conscious after watching friends and family members battle diabetes.
O'Neal, said Wootan, "shouldn't have it both ways."
"You can't do a photo-op
with the First Lady promoting exercise one day, and sell
disease-promoting sodas the rest of the year."
Shaq is sold at 7-Eleven stores for between $.99 and $1.25 per can, and
O'Neal is currently heavily promoting it on social media, with a
nationwide "scavenger hunt" sweepstakes to find five "golden cans," which lead to major prizes for winners.
Obama's Let's Move! advice for parents and families has been to "swap"
water for soda and other sugary beverages, but neither she nor other
representatives for the Let's Move! campaign have ever suggested that
soda be eliminated entirely from Americans' diets, preferring instead to
promote the idea of moderation and balance.
O'Neal is joining Mrs. Obama at the Orr School event as a brand ambassador for athletic gear maker Reebok, which has pledged up to $30 million over the next five years to support Let's Move! Active Schools. The 7'1" hoopster is also currently promoting his special-edition Reebok shoes, the black and white "Shaqnosis," which retail for $115 a pair.
Olympic track & field star Allyson Felix and Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes, co-chair of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, will also join the First Lady and O'Neal on Friday. Felix represents NIKE, Inc., which is also funding Mrs. Obama's campaign.
Same story, different superstar...
O'Neal is not the first star Let's Move! supporter to come under fire from health activists thanks to soda. Pop superdiva Beyoncé Carter-Knowles was the first major celebrity to offer support for Let's Move!, re-writing one of her own songs and creating a video and dance routine for a nationwide middle-school Let's Move! event in 2011.
But after Beyoncé became the global spokesperson for PepsiCo earlier this year, health activists asked that she be "disinvited" from singing at President Barack Obama's second Inauguration. They posted a petition on the White House's 'We the People' site, saying that thanks to Mrs. Obama's role as the nation's leading child obesity spokesperson, Beyoncé should not be singing the National Anthem for the President.
The White House disabled the petition after it received more than 500 signatures in less than 24 hours, saying it violated the petition site's Terms of Participation, because the Presidential Inaugural Committee, rather than the White House, scheduled performers.
Beyoncé's Inaugural appearance was "not something the White House actually has jurisdiction over," a spokesman told Obama Foodorama.
Mrs. Obama has not distanced herself from the popstar, praising Beyoncé on Twitter for her Super Bowl half-time show this year, and traveling to Chicago earlier this summer to catch one of Beyoncé's concerts.
*Photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama