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Countys sugar fight not a blockbuster

Don't look for healthy eating ad on movie screens this summer
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT National studies show that sugary soft drinks contribute to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Multnomah County purchased billboard space around town for its anti-obesity campaign, hoping to encourage young people to pick up healthier drink options this summer.

With the new Harry Potter movie coming out soon, Multnomah County figured it should take its anti-obesity campaign to where young people are hanging out this summer - movie theaters.

But the county's attempt to buy space for a 60-second ad in that jumble of advertising shown before movies are screened was flatly rejected by the company that handles ad sales for Regal and other Portland-area cinemas.

The ad, adapted from one produced by New York City, shows a man at a lunch counter chowing down on several little packets of sugar used to sweeten coffee or tea.

Text for the ad appears on the screen while the obviously happy man stuffs his face: 'You'd never eat 16 packs of sugar. Why would you drink 16 packs of sugar?'

Sitting next to the man is a bemused woman sipping her generic soda as the ad explains that a 20-ounce regular cola contains the equivalent of 16 packs of sugar.

'Go with water, fat-free milk, seltzer or unsweetened teas instead,' the ad concludes.

When Multnomah County tried to buy time to screen the ad via NCM Media Networks, the request quickly made it to the executive suite at Regal, says Sonia Manhas, the county's program manager for Community Wellness and Prevention.

'They felt like they couldn't ask their theaters to show the ad,' Manhas says.

One of the reasons cited: 'They are relying on concessions for profit.'

Dave Austin, county spokesman, says it's ironic that the movie theaters show public-service announcements on the screens before movies begin, but wouldn't take a paid ad from the county.

'We're not asking for a handout,' Austin says.

The media relations department for Knoxville, Tenn.-based Regal Cinemas did not respond to phone messages requesting comment on the issue. Neither did the media spokesman for NCM in New York City.

Courtesy of Multnomah County • The county attempted to buy space for a 60-second anti-obesity ad (above) to be screened before movies this summer. The ad was produced by the New York City Health Department. Local cinemas have rejected the county's ad.

'It Starts Here' campaign

Manhas says she doesn't really begrudge Regal for rejecting the ad, given its interest in selling soft drinks at the concession counter. But she lamented that soda companies spend more than $1 million a day to market their products, much of it directed at young people, while the county that pays the costs of an obesity epidemic faces barriers placing its message about eating healthier.

'Our intent is to get messages where people really are,' Manhas says. 'You've got a captive audience of young people in those theaters.'

TNS Media Intelligence reported that the top three carbonated soda companies spent $609 million on U.S. advertising in 2007. Multnomah County is using some proceeds from a $7.5 million federal grant for community health and prevention to finance its 'It Starts Here' campaign. That paid for 16 billboards around town and bus advertising, which include similar messages about the sugar content in soft drinks. The county expects to place ads this summer in Lloyd Center and other shopping malls, and banners at county library branches, Manhas says.

National studies report that sugary soft drinks are among the culprits in the rise of obesity and exploding health care costs in Multnomah County and across the nation. A 2005-06 teen survey found that 10percent of Oregon eighth-graders were overweight, and 15 percent were at risk of becoming overweight, according to the Oregon Public Health Division. And 84 percent of the eighth-graders had consumed at least one soda in the prior week, while 10 percent had consumed at least one a day.

Rising obesity accounted for 34 percent of the per-capita increase in Oregon health care spending from 1998 to 2005, according to a report by Emory University released by the Northwest Health Foundation.

A third of Americans born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime, according to a study published in2003inthe Journal of the American Medical Association.