By Kim Robson
New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced a plan to limit the sales of sugary sodas in his city, in an effort to combat rising rates of obesity. Because more than half of residents are obese, Mayor Bloomberg is determined to improve New Yorkers’ health and is trying to figure out ways to do that.
The proposed ban would apply to pre-sweetened drinks which contain 25 calories or more per eight-ounce serving. Such drinks would be available only in 16-ounce or smaller containers. That includes soda, iced tea, and energy drinks. The measure would not apply to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages. Considering that kids nowadays are getting cavities in their baby teeth, it would seem fruit juices (especially juice-boxes) should be included. The program will affect menus in restaurants, delis, fast-food franchises, movie theaters, street carts, and even sports arenas, but not grocery or convenience stores. Bloomberg’s plan could take effect as soon as next March.
“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’ ” Mr. Bloomberg said in an interview. “New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something,” he said. “I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”
Bloomberg has made public health one of the top priorities of his office. He’s promoted a number of aggressive regulations, including bans on smoking in restaurants and parks, a prohibition against artificial trans fat in restaurant food, and a requirement for health inspection grades to be posted in restaurant windows.
First Lady Mrs. Obama, whose own nationwide Let’s Move campaign targets childhood obesity, said there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution for the country’s health challenges. But, she said, “We applaud anyone who’s stepping up to think about what changes work in their communities. New York is one example.”
Many argue that sugary drinks are an excellent target for portion-size intervention. They have many calories but no nutrients, effectively making them “liquid candy.” They are available everywhere, and their consumption amounts to hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of calories a day. People who habitually consume sugary drinks tend to have worse diets and weigh more than those who don’t, and they tend to drink whatever amount the container holds.
The proposal requires the approval of the Board of Health. Approval is considered likely because all members are appointed by Bloomberg, and the board’s chairman (who is also the city’s health commissioner) supports the measure.
The mayor, however, is catching a lot of criticism for overreaching far beyond the appropriate bounds of government power. Nicknamed “Nanny Bloomberg” by detractors, he stands accused of legislating lifestyle choices. What’s next? Will New Yorkers be required to exercise? Quit smoking? If it were up to me, I would ban cigarettes, which kill more people than alcohol and illegal drugs combined. Since we’re discussing portion control, how about no more sales of cartons of cigarettes?
Simply making the containers smaller isn’t going to have much effect when folks can still purchase multiple 16-ounce containers. The mayor himself pointed out that the option to buy more soda would always be available. “Your argument, I guess, could be that it’s a little less convenient to have to carry two 16-ounce drinks to your seat in the movie theater rather than one 32-ounce,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a sarcastic tone. “I don’t think you can make the case that we’re taking things away.”
More smaller containers will, however, have an effect on the amount of landfill waste created. It will mean more plastic and paper being used and discarded. A Reuters/Ipsos poll found 64 percent of people think the plan gives the government far too much control over people’s decisions about their personal dietary choices. Seventy-one percent say they don’t believe that limiting cup sizes will have any impact on obesity rates.
With a stunning lack of a sense of irony, a few days later Mayor Bloomberg endorsed “National Donut Day” at a local Dunkin’ Donuts franchise. Let’s do a wee bit of comparison:
According to Dunkin’ Donuts’ nutrition catalog:
The hypocrisy is breathtaking.
Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a bill that would reduce the penalty for people caught with 25 grams or less of marijuana. So, if both pass, someone could get into more trouble for selling a 17-ounce soft drink than they would for possessing 24 grams of marijuana. One certainly can’t argue that Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban has good intentions, but it’s silly to pick just one evil, then ignore others. Why not force KFC and McDonald’s to limit the number of burgers they sell? Why not force Dunkin Donuts to limit the fat and sugar in all of their products? Because we live in a free society where we cherish and defend the freedom to choose for ourselves, if we want that soda or donut, it should be our choice.