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New Mississippi law bans restrictions on food portions

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March 14, 2013: Gov. Phil Bryant informs reporters at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., that he'll sign a new law to prevent cities or counties from banning extra-large soft drinks or requiring restaurants to list calorie counts on menus since he opposes local restrictions on food labeling or portion sizes because he sees them as interference into private business practices. "I'm very supportive of anything that will stop the nanny state," Bryant said. (AP)

A new law in the most obese state in the nation says Mississippi cities and counties can't ban the Big Gulp or put other local regulations on food and drink.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed Senate Bill 2687 Monday, and it became law immediately.

"It is simply not the role of government to micro-regulate citizens' dietary decisions," Bryant said in a statement accompanying the bill signing. "The responsibility for one's personal health depends on individual choices about a proper diet and appropriate exercise."

Some legislators called it an "anti-Bloomberg" bill — a jab at New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who tried to ban the sale of super-sized soft drinks. A New York judge blocked the city's effort last week.

Bloomberg has called the Mississippi plan "ridiculous."

The Mississippi law says local governments can't require restaurants to list calorie counts on menus or ban plastic toys in kids' meals. It was pushed by the state restaurant association and chicken growers, among others.

Mark Leggett, president of the Mississippi Poultry Association, said consumers shouldn't face a patchwork of local regulations for food labeling or portion sizes.

"Don't mess with the buffet," Leggett joked Tuesday at the Capitol.

Federal rankings show nearly 35 percent of Mississippi adults were very fat in 2011, the worst rate in the nation. Bryant said the new law won't prevent "laudable efforts by local schools to ensure that food offered in schools is healthy and nutritious."

He cited research that showed obesity rates among elementary school pupils in Mississippi declined by 13.3 percent between 2005 and 2011, as schools banned soft drinks and moved away from deep-frying chicken and other foods.

Michelle Obama talked about the same statistics Feb. 27 when she went to an elementary school in the Jackson suburb of Clinton to promote her "Let's Move" campaign to end childhood obesity.

Bryant has said he was overweight as a child. He has been a runner for years.

"Leading a healthy lifestyle is important to me, and it is a personal priority of mine to educate Mississippians on the importance of making good health decisions," Bryant said.