Monday, August 17, 2009

Doctor Fired Over ‘America Dies on Dunkin’

PENSACOLA, Fla. - Dr. Jason Newsom has passed judgement against burgers, french fries, KFC fried chicken and sweet tea in his campaign to demand better eating. Everything was going just great until the donuts, if he had only left the doughnuts alone.

A 38-year-old doctor a few years ago launched a one-man war on obesity by posting sardonic warnings on an electronic sign outside:
"Sweet Tea = Liquid Sugar."
"Hamburger = Spare Tire."
"French Fries = Thunder Thighs."

He also called out KFC by name to make people think twice about fried chicken.

Then he parodied "America Runs on Dunkin'," the doughnut chain's slogan, with: "America Dies on Dunkin'."

Some influential people in the Gulf Coast tourist town decided they had had enough.

A county commissioner just happens to owns a doughnut shop and two lawyers who just happen to own a new Dunkin' Donuts on Panama City Beach threatened to sue.

The good doctor's bosses at the Florida Health Department made him remove the anti doughnuts rants and eventually forced him to resign, he says.

"I picked on doughnuts because those things are ubiquitous in this county. Everywhere I went, there were two dozen doughnuts on the back table. At church, there were always doughnuts on the back table at Sunday school. It is social expectation thing," says Newsom, who is a lean 6-foot, 167 pound man.

Newsom was hired by the state Health Department making $140,000 a year to direct the county agency. His job is to educate the public about health issues like, swine flu, AIDS and things like that - but that wasn't enough for him, he also decided to address things glazed, sprinkled and maple bars.
He angered staff members not allowing doughnuts to enter department meetings and announcing he would personally throw the fat laden foods away if he saw them in the break room.

He wasn't done there, he also banned candy bars in the vending machines, putting in peanuts instead.

The lawyers, Bo Rivard and Michael Duncan, owners of a new Dunkin' Donuts, asked Newsom to take down the "America Dies on Dunkin' " message. Newsom already had run other anti-doughnut warnings, including "Doughnuts = Diabetes," and "Dunkin' Donuts = Death."

The businessmen had the backing of County Commissioner Mike Thomas, who owns a diner and a doughnut shop. Thomas called for Newsom's ouster, saying the doctor shouldn't have named businesses on the message board.
"I think he was somewhat of a zealot," Thomas says. "I don't have a problem with him pushing an agenda, it's the way he did it. People borrowed money to go into business and they are being attacked by the government."

A short time after Newsom's meeting with Rivard and Duncan, Newsom says, his bosses at the state Health Department told him that his leadership wasn't wanted and that he could be fired or resign. He chose to resign but has reapplied for the job.

"I have never been known for my subtlety. I don't have a knack for it. I speak the truth to people and just assume that that my data and purpose are so real and true that everyone will see the value of what I'm doing," says Newsom.

"Dunkin' Donuts is pleased that the signs have been removed," Andrew Mastrangelo, a spokesman for Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin' Donuts said.

Newsom is hoping to get his job back so that he can resume his campaign against overeating.

"My method was a little provocative and controversial," he says, "but there wasn't a person in Bay County who wasn't talking about health and healthy eating."