- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2013

The nation’s most prominent anti-obesity crusader, first lady Michelle Obama, has turned her attention to beverages and is encouraging Americans to drink more water.

Mrs. Obama’s “Drink Up” campaign was unveiled Thursday at an event in Watertown, Wis. — a town where, ironically, the soda industry is a key cog in the economy.

While the soft drink industry has endorsed the effort, it’s coming under fire from other quarters, most notably some in medicine who believe it is overselling the virtues of H20.

Few dispute water’s overall health benefits, but questions surround whether the first lady and others have gone too far by suggesting, among other things, that increased water consumption leads to increased energy.

“It’s not a very scientific approach they’ve taken The idea drinking water increases energy, the word I’ve used to describe it is quixotic,” Stanley Goldfarb, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, told Politico on Thursday, one of several specialists puzzled by the new effort.

The “Drink Up” initiative has a very narrow aim. Proponents — including actress Eva Longoria, who joined Mrs. Obama in Watertown on Thursday — aren’t recommending a specific amount of water each day, nor are they explicitly asking Americans to use it as a substitute for soda, beer and other drinks.

Instead, the campaign simply wants everyone to drink one more glass of water every 24 hours, regardless of how much or how little one already consumes each day.

“It doesn’t matter where you get it from — the tap, a water bottle, a water fountain — just drink one more glass of water a day,” Mrs. Obama said Thursday, addressing a crowd of Watertown High School students. The town was chosen not only because of its undeniably fitting name, but also because it’s been recognized by the American Water Association as having the cleanest water in Wisconsin.

“If we all do this, if we all drink up, we’ll all feel better,” Mrs. Obama continued. “We’ll all have more energy, we will have more focused students, we will have more productive workplaces and we will have vibrant neighborhoods and a healthier country. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.”

Before Mrs. Obama spoke, she apparently had to assure local officials she wouldn’t bad-mouth the soda industry, public enemy No. 1 in the first lady’s ongoing anti-obesity campaigns and efforts to get healthier food and drink into school cafeterias.

Watertown is home to Wis-Pak, a leading manufacturer and distributor of soft drinks, and Mayor John David admitted he initially feared Mrs. Obama would come to town and take soda to task.

“That was a concern. I have been assured on different occasions that there is no soda-bashing here,” he told Milwaukee’s Fox 6 TV station.

In fact, the American Beverage Association on Thursday voiced strong support for the effort, pointing out that its companies are the ones producing bottled water.

“Staying hydrated is important to staying in balance, and bottled water provides people with a convenient and popular choice,” said Susan Neely, the association’s president and CEO. “By supporting this new initiative, our industry is once again leading with meaningful ways to achieve a balanced lifestyle.”