January 12th, 2005

Bush's Fitness Chair Lynn Swan Hooks Up With Vending Industry

By Russell Mokhiber
Corporate Crime Reporter

Bush’s Fitness Chair Lynn Swann Hooks Up With Vending Industry

19 Corporate Crime Reporter 3(1), January 12, 2005

The chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports has hooked up with the vending machine industry to beat back efforts by parents and public health groups to curb the sale of junk food in public schools.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers great Lynn Swann will appear on Thursday at a press conference sponsored by the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) to push for a program to counter a growing nationwide movement to ban junk food vending machines from public schools.

Swann is being paid to attend the event, according to NAMA spokesperson Jackie Clark.

But Clark said she couldn’t disclose how much Swann is being paid for the event.

Swann’s speaker’s bureau lists his fee as between $30,001 and $50,000.

In a press advisory, NAMA accurately identifies Swann as the chair of President Bush Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

But Clark said that identification should not have appeared in the advisory.

“We knew that he was with the President’s Council,” Clark said.  “That matched our message very nicely. But Lynn Swann asked us not to mention his relationship because it would look like an endorsement from the President’s Council. And he is doing this as an individual.”

In a subsequent NAMA press release titled “Vending Industry Launches National Campaign to Fight Childhood Obesity,” Swann is identified only as “professional football legend Lynn Swann.”

There is no mention of his chairmanship of the President’s Council.

Merrill Goozner of the Center for Science in the Public Interest questioned the propriety of Swann’s paid appearance.

“A presidential appointee whose primary job is to promote physical fitness has no business cutting financial deals with an industry that is peddling junk food,” Goozner said. “It is a gross conflict of interest. His job is to do just the opposite. His job is to get the junk food out of kids daily diets because it is a major contributor to childhood obesity which is growing at epidemic proportions in this country.”

Swann could not be reached for comment.

The vending machine industry is under attack across the country for pushing junk foods to kids, especially in schools.

More than half of all high schools and junior high schools have cut deals with vending machine companies giving the companies exclusive rights to market in the schools in exchange for direct payments to the schools.

And according to a survey of vending machines in middle schools and high schools conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest in May 2004, 75 percent of the drinks and 85 percent of the snacks sold in those vending machines are of poor nutritional value.

But parents and health professionals are fighting back and expelling junk food and soda pop marketers from the schools.

According to Commercial Alert, parents and health professionals have secured victories in Arkansas, California, Maine and Texas, and in cities such as Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle.

In July, California banned soft drink marketers from the public schools.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) has introduced legislation that would ban vending machines selling junk foods in schools receiving federal funds.

To counter this nationwide effort to ban the junk food machines, the vending machine industry has launched its own “national campaign to fight childhood obesity.”

The industry has teamed up with the Columbus Children’s Hospital’s Borden Center for Nutrition and Wellness to promote its Snackwise Nutrition Rating System.

NAMA says the Snackwise system “helps students understand how different food choices fit into an overall diet” by ranking them as either “choose rarely,” “choose moderately,” or “choose frequently.”

“We too are parents and are just as concerned as everyone else about the devastating impact childhood obesity will have on our children and the future,” said NAMA President Richard Geerdes. “We want to be part of the solution, which is why we have created this program. If we can help our children truly understand the elements of a balanced diet and the importance of being physically active we can have a lasting impact on their lives, protecting an enhancing their future.”

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