Speak Your Piece: About 'Mountain Dew Mouth'
I turned on ABC evening news, February 17, 2009, and was surprised to see Diane Sawyer sitting in Charles Gibson’s chair. I usually watch ABC News but this replacement for Charles Gibson caused a little problem for me since I’m trying to avoid Diane Sawyer after the “A Hidden America, Children of the Mountain” documentary on 20/20. I suppose you could say I am upset with her. I’m from rural West Virginia not Eastern Kentucky but we share a unique and fighting kinship.
The show did bring to light the health problem, tooth decay, caused by drinking Mountain Dew soda. It is thoughtful that PepsiCo is now offering services to the area by donating funds for another traveling dental clinic in the region as well as offering help in recruiting dentists for the area. But why in heaven’s name is a company permitted to mix up and market a soft drink, Mountain Dew, enjoyed by all ages, that contains an extremely addictive substance and is so damaging to a dental health that a pet name has been coined to describe it, a term reserved for Appalachians with rotten teeth: “Mountain Dew Mouth”?
Shouldn’t the Food and Drug Administration investigate the company that makes and markets this beverage and demand a mandatory label be placed on each bottle warning of the possibilities of addiction and dental decay? Perhaps those warnings will be part of the education PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi referred to on the evening news. She expressed concern “about any overuse or misuse of the soda among small children." On most products having a harmful effect on children you will find a warning label “keep away from children.” I don’t believe Mountain Dew provides any warning label or instructions for consumption.
Americans everywhere, not just in Appalachia, are battling obesity, addictive foods, sugary drinks and tobacco. Citizens and state governments have put the squeeze on tobacco.
ABC News On March 20, 1997, a step was reached which has been called “historic” in which the tobacco industry was compelled to come clean with the American public and tell the truth about its lethal products. This agreement also required the Liggett Group to comply with new federal regulations regarding tobacco products. For the first time, the industry acknowledged that cigarettes cause cancer, that nicotine is addictive and that it had attempted to suppress knowledge about how harmful its products are. The tobacco industry agreed not to continue marketing its product to children.
Research shows that certain types of marketing and advertising, such as event sponsorship and product placement, send pro-smoking messages. Tobacco companies such as R. J. Reynolds are limited on marking and advertising practices as a result of too many lawsuits to count. Why should Mountain Dew be treated any differently?
I do think becoming informed will help. A Coke drinker myself, I limited my consumption after being told that if you drop a nail in a bottle of Coke it will disintegrate overnight.
I am not trying to suggest drinking Mountain Dew soda causes cancer but after watching Diane Sawyer’s “A Hidden America, Children of the Mountains,” I do know it does contain an addictive substance and can cause potential health risks.
I don’t know if Mountain Dew specifically is sold in the schools in Kentucky, West Virginia, Southwest Virginia and other Appalachian areas, but the sale of soft drinks in school is big business for vending companies. Kentucky passed legislation which puts no restrictions on the type of soft drink sold in high schools, while sales to the lower grades are more restrictive, limiting the sugar content of products for sale and the hours of sale too. Perhaps the sale of soft drinks in schools could be eliminated altogether to preserve the teeth of young Appalachians and help promote a healthier lifestyle.
It would be wonderful if those folks Diane visited and others in the region could have an abundant source of fluoridated, potable water to give their children and to drink themselves, but the truth is in many, many of coal mining areas water is not safe to drink or use for cooking. Many residents depend on deep wells for water. Mining has ruined the wells and people have no water in the house. All water has to be hauled in.
Mining companies sometimes furnish big outdoor tanks for water storage but consumers themselves must buy the water and bring it in. Public utilities are slow in coming to remote rural areas. In fact, many of the rural folk are not in favor of public service districts because it means an additional monthly bill for water and sewer. Deep wells and natural springs have been the most common source for water for rural folks, but mining continues to damage even those supplies.
I am thankful the public is donating to the children featured in Diane Sawyer’s story. I sincerely hope Shawn Grim gets a college education and uses it to help break the cycle of poverty he is caught up in.
The traveling dental clinic will succeed because Dr. Edwin Smith will see to that. The Mud Creek Clinic will succeed because Eula Hall will see to that.
Many Appalachians agree with Derek Mullins of Whitesburg, Kentucky, when he referred to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1960s War on Poverty, which was launched in Inez, Kentucky. “At this point, we’ve been addressing poverty for 40 years,” Mullins said. “If we aren’t gaining any ground, isn’t it time to revise our strategy?"
The people of Appalachia, all the people, deserve a fair shake.