Published on: June 20, 2012by Kate McMahon
Soda Jerk or Waistline Savior?
That online headline summed up the debate bubbling on the internet over New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial proposal to ban the sale of jumbo sugary drinks in city restaurants, fast food chains, delis, movie theaters and street carts.
“Nanny State!” read a plethora of blog posts – with writers railing about government intruding on personal choice and asking, “What’s next, popcorn?” Proponents of the progressive public health measure echoed chef-author-New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, who countered with the obesity-increases-health-care-costs argument: “Your right to harm yourself stops when I have to pay for it.”
As has been chronicled here on MNB, with plenty of spirited commentary resulting, Bloomberg put forth the proposal to ban the sale of sugary drinks in servings larger than 16 ounces (the size of a small soda at McDonalds), saying it is a way to fight obesity in a city that spends billions of dollars a year on weight-related health problems.
Anyone with an opinion can share it with the NYC Board of Health, which will hold a public hearing on the measure next month. It is a mark of the modern world that the board has an online link for city residents to weigh in with just one click - they don't have to wait for the hearing to make their opinions heard. Or at least known.
Here in the New York area, Bloomberg’s plan has been fodder for the late-night comics and even a New Yorker cover. Two recent polls show a slim majority (on pun intended) New Yorkers oppose it – between 51 and 53 percent. By contrast, a recent national poll showed 64% of Americans thought government was going too far in regulating people’s diets.
Obviously, the city’s restaurant lobby and beverage industry representatives are adamantly opposed and the possibility of legal action looms. Among the arguments: the local ordinance is infringing on state and federal authority, and would impose burdens on free flow of commerce between states.
Certainly, there is much about the proposed ban that is nonsensical. You can still buy a Big Gulp or a 20-ounce bottle of soda at 7-11 (convenience stores and supermarkets are exempt). Nor does it outlaw a large Caramel Frosty at Wendy’s at a whopping 1,000 calories (because it is milk-based) or multiple free-refills of your 16-ounce soda. The fate of the Starbucks Frappuccino under the proposal remains unclear.
(Of course, the Frappuccino lost much of its appeal for many under another Bloomberg initiative that required chain-restaurants in New York to publish calorie counts on menus. Four-hundred calories per drink? No thanks.)
But whether Bloomberg is seen as an annoying nanny or a dedicated health advocate, here's an interesting piece if information to add to the debate. A just-released study found that life expectancy in New York City has increased by 10 years in Manhattan since 1987, bucking a national trend. The researchers largely attribute that rise — the fastest in the nation — to a crackdown by the New York City health department on unhealthy behaviors through aggressive policies regarding smoking, banning trans-fats and posting calorie counts.
I had been on the fence about the effectiveness of Bloomberg’s soda ban, but that study persuaded me to support it. I care little about adults ranting about the Nanny State. If subtle changes can help our nation’s young people, in particular, live healthier lives, then I’m all for it. This is a start.
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- KC's View: