Public health advocates are accusing California's parks of selling out the state's anti-obesity efforts for the remote possibility of winning $175,000 from Coca-Cola Co. The state parks are urging Californians to vote in an online contest sponsored by the company, while health officials are imploring residents to cut their soda consumption.
Roy Stearns, a spokesman for California State Parks, defended the parks’ association with the beverage giant. According to Stearns, the soda maker has contributed $2 million to California's parks during the past four years, while state lawmakers have cut the parks' budget by 43 percent.
“Coca-Cola is a company that has stepped up to the plate at a time of need. Our budget is the worst it's been in history,” he said.
With 70 state parks slated to close as a result of budget cuts, Stearns explained his agency is "reaching out to partners who can help us."
Public health advocates can't stomach that justification.
"We know that our parks are in desperate need of cash, and it really feels like industry taking advantage of a really vulnerable place in our economy right now for their own economic and PR gain," said Marice Ashe, executive director of Public Health Law & Policy, a nonprofit based in Oakland. “Coca-Cola is not part of a healthy diet or a healthy life. There is a place for treats, but it shouldn’t be equated with a healthy lifestyle, and parks are.”
Stearns disagreed: "I like a Coke. I know thousands of people who like a Coke, and we don't have to be obese drinking one. If you drink a Coca-Cola, you can still be active. Should we tell people not to drive cars because people have car accidents?"
On Tuesday, the California Department of Parks and Recreation issued a call for Californians to “Get out and vote for your favorite state park during Coca-Cola’s 'America is Your Park' campaign.”
The nationwide contest invites members of the public to choose their favorite parks. The three parks that get the most votes receive prizes of $100,000, $50,000 and $25,000. People can vote as often as they like.