A Chicago Park District program funded by Coca-Cola will try to fight obesity and diabetes by offering nutrition education as well as exercise classes run by armed forces veterans, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Monday.
The Park Families Wellness Initiative, backed by a $3 million grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation, is the second partnership the mayor has launched with the soft drink giant in the past several weeks that he says will help make Chicagoans healthier.
In October, Emanuel stood with officials from Coke, Pepsico and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group to say the three companies would add calorie information to pop machines in Chicago government buildings. He also unveiled a competition between Chicago city workers and those in San Antonio to earn rewards from a $5 million national beverage lobbying group.
Those ideas were criticized by some who said the mayor should take a harder line against the sugary drinks, like mayors in some other major cities.
On Monday, Emanuel reiterated his position that it’s better to give people personal responsibility and the information necessary to make the right choices about their health than it is to legislate their behavior. And he pointed out the deal with Coca-Cola will allow the park district to hire about 60 veterans of the U.S. armed forces to lead fitness classes.
The Coca-Cola grant will also help pay for nutrition and fitness education programs in parks around the city. Park District CEO Michael Kelly said he expects about 125,000 people will be able to take classes to learn how to eat better and get exercise.
During a question-and-answer session after his news conference, Emanuel also discussed the newly strengthened Democratic majorities in the Illinois General Assembly.
Asked whether Democratic dominance in Springfield will help his quest for a city-owned casino, Emanuel said he “would like a casino only so I could create economic growth and invest in modernizing our schools.” But he also said he wants lawmakers to created a firearm registry to make it easier for police to track guns used in crimes. He added that he would like to see the legislature legalize gay marriage.
Emanuel also called for U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to let the voters who re-elected him know “his intentions.”
The mayor has previously declined to weigh in on the status of Jackson, who has been absent from Congress since June 8 while receiving treatment for bipolar disorder. But on Monday, Emanuel said the congressman should talk to residents of Illinois’ 2nd congressional district, who re-elected him despite questions about his health.
“With the election over, there are big issues coming up in the lame duck session,” Emanuel said. “I think Congressman Jackson, it’s incumbent upon him to have a conversation with his constituents about his intentions.”
The lame duck session begins Wednesday in the House.