Atlas Chugged

Atlas chugged.

Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead”

Before the New York Board of Health’s recent decision to place some restrictions on the purchase of sodas over 160z, the American Beverage Association distributed this postcard all over the city, and they also had delivery trucks painted with the message. I put the card near my computer as a sort of ironic talisman, since I was completing a project on Mayor Bloomberg’s extraordinary public health reforms. Skeptics may not realize it, but life expectancy is increasing in New York City.

The more I stared at this card, the more this muscular man seemed familiar. I’m always teaching the importance of symbols and framing in health policy. He’s supposed to look like the Lady Liberty, holding the soda as a beacon of… (sugar?).  Or maybe he is the man on the cover of Ayn Rand’s book The Fountainhead ? Perhaps he’s Atlas (groaning under the weight of that enormous 32oz Sprite)?  Either way, this image raises the question of whether we have superficial and cartoonish debates in health policy–freedom, liberty, bureaucracy, all on a postcard–or is this actually a great encapsulation of these issues?

Overall though, I’m troubled that beverage producers, of all businesses, would have the courage to make pernicious linkages between libertarianism, athleticism and muscularity, and that no one would notice this contradiction.

Author: Miriam Laugesen

Miriam J. Laugesen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. Much of her research is focused on the design and politics of physician payment policy within Medicare. Twitter:miriamlaugesen@