Love it or hate it, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s public health initiative to ban the sale of large sugary drinks in New York would have worked. And a ban might be the only thing that will work.
I’m no fan of the so-called Nanny State, when the government uses its power to restrict something that should be a matter of individual choice. And I agree with the judicial ruling that the ban is “arbitrary and capricious” in the way that it singles out specific beverage categories while ignoring other equally sugar-laden products, and because it applies only to restaurants and venues that are regulated by the Board of Health and not to convenience stores and other vendors that are regulated by the state. But I still would like to see a soda ban succeed.
We can all agree that there is an obesity crisis in this country, and it affects every one of us.
Yes, all of us. You might not struggle to squeeze into your jeans or suffer from asthma, diabetes, or any of the host of medical conditions associated with obesity, but it’s a burden shared by all of us. According to Reuters obesity adds roughly $190 billion to annual national health care costs. A Duke University study calculated the cost to employers of obesity-related absenteeism as $6.4 billion a year, and it’s estimated that the added weight to passenger vehicles releases nearly 20 billion extra gallons of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere every year. The Department of Defense has even called its overweight recruits a national security issue.
We can also agree that soda is a part of the problem.
In the 1970′s, the calories in the beverages we drank added up to a mere 2-4% of the total calories we consumed. Then we entered the super-size-me-venti-big-gulp era when the 16 oz. ‘large’ soda size of yore became the present-day ‘small.’ Now we can chalk up one-fifth of all calories consumed to the beverages we drink.
We recognize the problem, we know the solution, how tough can this be to fix?
Unfortunately we have a terrible track record when it comes to behavior changes that mitigate health risks, and knowledge and warnings—especially coming from public health campaigns— are among the least effective measures to change behaviors. Three in four smokers with respiratory disease continue to smoke, and a diagnosis of heart disease or diabetes has been shown to have virtually no effect on the consumption of fruit and vegetables.
Soda bans are our seat belts.
They save lives and prevent serious injury; it’s indisputable. Still, for decades the PSA campaign promoting seat belt use was mostly ignored. There were roadside billboards and radio and television spots urging us to use seat belts. They tried every approach from catchy jingles to graphic car wreck images, but what ultimately got us to buckle up were seat belt laws. 49 states (all but live-free-or-die New Hampshire) currently mandate their use and they all back up the law with stiff fines for non-compliance.
Mayor Bloomberg has a proven history with controversial food and health-related regulations.
In 2005 he banned most trans fats from all restaurants within the city limits, successfully cutting the typical restaurant meal’s content of the killer fat by more than 80%. Then in 2008 he forced chain restaurants in the city to post calorie counts resulting in a 6% reduction in calories consumed at these outlets.
Bloomberg’s current initiative is more of a cap than an outright ban. It aims to limit the size of sugary drinks to no more than 16-ounces at movie theaters, restaurants, food carts, and sports arenas. The difference drinking a single 16-ounce drink rather than a 20-ounce one every day saves 14,600 calories a year, which amounts to four pounds of body fat.
It’s an imperfect plan. It’s riddled with inconsistencies—the 50-ounce 7-Eleven Slurpee with four Snickers-bars’ worth of sugar slips through loopholes—and it doesn’t make a dent in the regular after school soda and chips habit of children who swing by their neighborhood bodega on the way home. Detractors warn of the slippery slope of regulation wondering what this could open the door to (chips? bacon?), and the beverage industry claims scapegoating.
Of course soda isn’t solely responsible for the obesity epidemic.
Obesity results from a complex matrix of diet, environment, genetics, and a myriad of other factors. But sugared beverages are the single largest source of calories in our diet. If we’re going to tackle the obesity problem, soda is a pretty good place to start.
Soda’s impact on our bodies goes beyond tooth decay from the sugar and the elevated risk of diabetes, asthma, and heart disease associated with obesity. See all the risks in Gigabiting’s Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Drink Soda