You have probably heard this already: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a ban on the sale of large sodas in an effort to reverse the supersize citizens of his city.
The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 oz would be prohibited.
There are some exceptions such as diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks (milkshakes), or alcoholic beverages.
However, the ban would not go as far as to ban beverages sold in grocery or convenience stores.
In an a public statement at City Hall Mayor Bloomberg claimed that “Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying ‘Oh, this is terrible’”
That is why public health has been one of the priorities of Mr. Bloomberg’s tenure and, so far, it has included bans on smoking in restaurants and parks (yay!), a prohibition against artificial trans fats in restaurant, a requirement for health inspection grades to be posted in restaurant windows, and mandatory food calories posting in restaurant chains.
Needless to say it the plan to ban large sodas has drawn scorn from the soft drink industry and heightens the debate about how involved government should be in efforts to steer individual behavior in the name of health.
The debate around the proposed legislation is in full swing: let’s see what it is all about...
Shouldn’t be people be allowed to make their own choices?
One side argues that people should be free to make their own choices and could not be forced into making decisions in the name of health.
Instead, more efforts should be made so that individuals can better understand the consequences of their choices.
"The idea of the state stepping in and treating adults essentially as children and trying to protect them for their own good, as opposed to the good of others, that's been with us for as long as we've been around, as long as we've had governments," told Glen Whitman - an economist at California State University-Northridge - to the Huffington Post. Whitman is a strong a critic of paternalistic public policy.
How far will it go?
The critics of Mr. Bloomberg proposed legislation see a new wave of intervention afoot that if it’s allowed to continue who knows where it could lead?
If government officials can limit the size of sodas, why couldn't they next decide to restrict portion sizes of food served in restaurants? Or restrict sales of doughnuts or bagels?
Reality is that many of the policies restricting individual choices in the name of public health seem almost benign, such as, for example fireworks sales or enforcement of motorcycle helmet laws.
Some of the more extremist opposers of the ban see it as the first step toward a far too much deeper involvement of the government in anything that claim public health impetus.
Namely, if the government can tell us how much soda to drink, what else can they control?
Jon Stewart, host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central, claimed that while agreeing that drinking less soda is a healthier behavior, he thinks that simply making the containers smaller isn't going to do a whole lot toward that cause. "It combines the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect!" Stewart joked.
Some scientific back-up opposing the ban
A study conducted in 2009 by experts at the University of Alabama School of Public Health and Purdue University reviewed five randomized trials that studied the effect of drinking sugar-sweetened beverages on body weight. The researchers found out that by focusing on one product we could be missing the big picture in the obesity battle.
"I think to say people drinking large sodas at events is the cause of obesity is short sighted and it is making a villain out of something that may not be the true villain," said Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., assistant professor of biostatistics in the SOPH, who doesn't think limiting the sale of larger size sodas will do anything to combat the obesity epidemic. "I think that while reducing consumption of sugar sweetened beverages is important, I don't think making it unavailable in certain settings is a way to accomplish that."
Judd adds that individuals are ultimately responsible for their own health and the actions they take related to it.
Obesity is an epidemic and the ban is justified by solid evidence
On the other side people in favor of the proposed ban argue that a high intake of these beverages increases the risks of obesity and diabetes (due to the high content of sugars) and is clearly unsafe for anyone.
And even though this alone won’t halt the epidemics of these diseases sweeping our country, but it is a valuable and creative step in the right direction that deserves the support of everyone who cares about the well-being of our children and all Americans.
The proposal changes the food environment
Another strong argument in favor of said legislation pledges that the restriction could change the food environment, the place where food and beverages are bought.
Brian Elbel, an assistant professor of population health and health policy at the New York University School of Medicine wrote to the New York Times: “The best science affirms that this is exactly the approach that could curb obesity trends. This same science indicates that education-based approaches, which also have their place, will do much less by comparison.
That sugary beverages contribute to obesity is clear.
The science also tells us that changing the default beverage choice to something smaller could induce people to consume just that smaller beverage rather than deal with the cost and hassle of buying and carrying two or more.
Time and further research will tell. But the continued focus on simply informing and educating consumers is doomed to failure and diminishes this important policy and the influence it could have on obesity.”
Nanny Bloomberg approach saves $$$ on health care system
Furthermore, supporters of the proposed ban, argue that what “Nanny Bloomberg” has done so far with health related issues has produced good results.
Whether it is trying to forbid to use of food stamps on unhealthy foods or mandating nutritional listings in restaurants, the Mayor has informed consumers, improved health and taken on many worthy preventive approaches to the burdened health care system.
So, those opposing the proposed legislation should be reminded that those health-care dollars spent on obesity-related chronic disease are taxpayer dollars.
My personal take on this...
I think that Mayor Bloomberg effort to promote healthier lifestyles is absolutely commendable, but I believe that the role of the government towards these kinds of issues should be one of promotion/education and not enforcement.
I’m a true believer that the best world possible is one where informed consumers make informed choices towards better health. That’s what this blog is ultimately about, acquired knowledge and share to promote healthier lifestyle. Maybe it’s utopia but I want to believe it’s not!
If people want to drink 32 ounces of sodas, it’s their decision and they can still do it by purchasing two 16 ounces gulp instead of one 32 ounces. Thing is, people should instead quench their thirst with plain, calories-free water.
The Iron You