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In a city of Tastykakes and water ice, Philly health officials declare war on sugary snacks for kids

You sure want the cookie, kiddo?

Wesley Tadlo waits for people to buy frozen treats from his ice cream truck at Penn Treaty Park in Phila., Pa. on July 17, 2019.
Wesley Tadlo waits for people to buy frozen treats from his ice cream truck at Penn Treaty Park in Phila., Pa. on July 17, 2019.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

Thinking about hopping into that water ice line or succumbing to the ice cream truck’s siren song? Think again, city officials suggest.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas A. Farley announced a new public education campaign Wednesday aimed at alerting residents to the dangers of children eating sugary snacks and encouraging them to seek healthier alternatives.

“Here in Philadelphia, 22 percent of our children have obesity,” said Farley in a City Hall news conference. Childhood obesity can lead to serious adult health problems like diabetes, the commissioner said.

One in eight Philadelphians have diabetes, he said, including one in six African American residents and one in five Hispanic Philadelphians.

“We can’t let diabetes overtake the next generation,” Farley said.

The campaign includes television, social media and billboard public service announcements and educational spots. Information is also available on

Unlike the city’s controversial sweetened beverage tax, this new effort to help get Philadelphians to adopt healthier habits is aimed at residents’ hearts, minds and waistlines, not their wallets.

Since the tax was enacted, sales of soda and other sweetened beverages in Philadelphia chain markets declined by 51 percent, according to a recent study. Currently under review by City Council, the tax has been strongly contested by the soda industry and criticized as harmful by some merchants.

This new campaign, although not money-based, packs quite an informational punch.

The first part of the effort, “Today, Tomorrow,” gives information about short- and long-term health problems associated with over-consuming high-sugar food and drinks.

The second leg, “I Call the Snacks,” has Philadelphia parents sharing what they do to get their children to eat more wholesome treats like fruits, nuts and other no-sugar-added snacks.

Fortune Walker, a mother and finance worker from Northeast Philadelphia, is featured in some of the campaign spots with her two children, Jaedyn, 6, and Giovanni, 12.

“I hope these ads start a lot of conversations in Philadelphia about how to make healthy eating the norm for all of our kids,” Walker said at the news conference.

Philadelphia snack favorites Tastykake and Rita’s Water Ice did not respond to requests for comment.

Jeff Brown owns 12 Philadelphia-area supermarkets. In March, the businessman closed a ShopRite in West Philadelphia, blaming the soda tax’s negative impact.

But Brown said he had no problem with the new anti-sugary snack campaign.

“I much prefer a campaign like this than trying to address it through sin taxes or other hurtful ways. The sin tax may kill the patient before you cure the problem,” said Brown, noting that some of his stores offer nutrition education and healthy cooking classes. “I much prefer education.”

Some early, informal parental response to the new campaign was mostly supportive.

Shirena Williams, a home health aide from West Philadelphia, was enjoying a Wawa blue raspberry Icee to cool off on a steamy Wednesday. But Williams said she limits the sugary snacks she allows her 5-year-old son to have at home.

“Some people can go overboard,” Williams said. “A lot of young people are coming up with diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Dora Jackson, a retired maintenance worker from Olney watching over her grandchildren playing on the City Hall plaza, said she’ll give her young ones a treat like ice cream or cookies once in a while. But Wednesday she was offering her grands a tub of nuts and dried fruits as a snack.

“I like some of the stuff that’s in here,” said granddaughter Zaliyah Jackson, 10. “Some stuff is nasty though.” She was passing on the dried cranberries and raisins, but dried pineapple got her thumbs up.

Diane Ali, a home health aide from South Philadelphia, said she supports moderation.

“I feel a little sugar now and then doesn’t hurt,” said Ali, a grandmother of 18 and great-grandmother of two.

“I think they’re going too far in telling people how to raise their children,” Ali said. “A woman, I believe, has the mother’s instinct on how to raise children.”

Grandson Jeffrey “Champ” Chalmer, though, was already on the team. His favorite snack?

“Rice Krispies!” the 5-year-old said.