Anderson Independent-Mail (South Carolina)
BYLINE: Independent Mail
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg fired another shot in the fight against obesity last week with a proposal to limit the sale of oversized sugary soft drinks.
Bloomberg based his proposal, according to Reuters News Service, on statistics showing that 58 percent of New York City adults and nearly 40 percent of city public school students are obese or overweight.
The proposed ban defines sugary drinks as beverages that are “sweetened with sugar or another caloric sweetener that contain more than 25 calories per 8 fluid ounces and contains less than 51 percent milk or milk substitute by volume as an ingredient.” Diet sodas or dairy-based drinks aren’t on the list. But if the ban goes into effect, other beverages that meet the criteria can not be sold in containers larger than 16 ounces at restaurants, mobile food carts, movie theaters or delis. (There goes the profit margin of extra-salty popcorn.)
Previous public-health efforts in New York include a ban on trans fats in restaurant food and a requirement for chain restaurants to display calorie counts on menus. In 2003, the city placed a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. It was initially met with resistance from smokers and non-smokers alike but is now widely accepted, Reuters reports – without mentioning that those objecting had no choice to do otherwise.
Whether this latest proposal, which has to be approved by the city’s Board of Health, will find the same acceptance is uncertain. Challengers include the New York City Beverage Association, which dismisses the mayor’s claim that the consumption of soda drives obesity rates. And it might have official data on its side. According to the Centers for Disease Control, despite what one might think, sugar-sweetened beverages are not the main source of added sugar in children’s diets. Fifty-nine percent of added sugar comes from food, 41 percent from beverages.
The American Beverage Association’s numbers also show that calories coming from added sugar has declined in the last 10 years.
There is no doubt that obesity plays a role in increased health-care costs for a variety of serious, potentially fatal diseases. In one Harvard study, sugar-sweetened drinks were determined to be the culprit in one of the most prevalent: diabetes.
The Harvard School of Public Health’s Nurses’ Health Study followed the health of more than 90,000 health-care professionals for eight years and found that those who consumed one or more servings per day of sugar-sweetened drinks were nearly twice as likely to have developed type 2 diabetes during the course of the study.
Bloomberg’s goal of a healthier public, while admirable, goes too far. There is also a chance that his efforts may produce the opposite results: consumers reaching out for supersized sodas where they are still available just on the principle of having a choice.
Like the old joke about the lightbulb and the psychiatrist, individuals have to make their own decisions about their diets before change is possible.
By the way, the Reuters report on Bloomberg’s proposal was accompanied online by two Google ads – for sugared soft drinks. And the other joke?
Q. How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. Only one. But the lightbulb has to really want to change.
Millions of people got around the laws banning alcohol during the nation’s failed experiment called Prohibition. And more than a few people gained enormous wealth just by helping them do it.
Most people get that their bad habits can damage their health. But prohibitions by government don’t work. Banning something doesn’t get to the root of a problem. It only addresses the symptoms.
And much of the time, it doesn’t even do that in a lasting way.
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