This may be old news by now, but have you heard about the latest war against soda?
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a ban on some sales of large sodas and sugar-based beverages in New York City. If adopted, fast food restaurants, delis, movie theaters and sporting venues in the city would not be allowed to sell, “any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle.”
In some ways, I think this is a great step in the right direction. Soft drinks are the biggest single source of empty calories in the American diet, and they have been linked to obesity, kidney damage, certain cancers, elevated blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
An article in CNN states, “The large doses of fructose from both sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup may be particularly detrimental to your health as they can cause the accumulation of metabolically toxic belly fat, cholesterol abnormalities — including high triglycerides and reduced levels of HDL (good cholesterol) — and nonalcoholic associated fatty liver disease… Yale University researchers also determined that people tend to eat more calories on days when they drink a lot of sweetened drinks, and that soda drinkers tend to be heavier than non-soda drinkers.” But we all knew soda was bad for you already, right?
On the other hand, it’s a potentially slippery slope of excessive government control.
I also think there are a lot of loopholes that will keep the ban from having a large impact on the city’s obesity epidemic:
- The ban doesn’t apply to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks (milkshakes, chocolate milk, etc.), alcoholic beverages, or drinks with fewer than 25 calories per serving. So, those who go into McDonald’s wanting an extra-large Coke will still be able to purchase an extra-large Diet Coke (this is not a healthier option) or an extra-large milkshake.
- Under this ruling, while restaurants that use self-serve soda fountains won’t be allowed to sell cups that hold more than 16 ounces, they will still be allowed to offer free refills. Unless someone who decides to eat on site is not up for making multiple trips to the fountain, I imagine that most will still consume the same amount of soda as they would have before large cups were banned.
- This ban would not apply to sugary drinks sold in grocery stores or convenience stores. So, people can still take home as much soda from the grocery as they can pack into their cars.
I think that under these rules, people who really want their sugary drinks in large quantities are still going to get them. I think that as long as the federal government continues to subsidize corn (making high fructose corn syrup cheap, in turn making sodas cheap), consumers are going to continue buying.
I would love to see this problem addressed differently: with high taxes placed sodas, similar to taxes placed on tobacco. I’d also like to see a movement to stop allowing food stamps to pay for sodas. Bloomberg has actually proposed both of these ideas before, but both were shot down by the federal regulators.
Have you seen Food, Inc.? There are a couple of great clips that address conflicts of interest between the food industry and the federal government. I assume that some of these conflicts are at the root of why Bloomberg wasn’t able get those proposals passed. For example, during the Bush administration, the head of the FDA was the former executive vice president of the National Food Processors Association. How likely is it that he fought to keep serving sizes of soda and other processed foods large, in schools, and cheap for consumers?
(The film outlines additional egregious conflicts between big food and the federal government, among other eye-opening topics, and it is worth your time to watch! It’s very educational and inspiring, too!)
In closing, I would like to touch on one comment that I’m sure many have thought, and that Speaker Boehner made on Friday. In a press conference he stated, “C’mon, don’t we have bigger issues to deal with than the size of some soft drink that somebody buys?”
I would say that public health and healthcare costs in America, such as the $190 billion in medical spending due to obesity, are two of those “bigger issues.” I hate to see this issue belittled by such powerful figures, and I hope that as my generation transitions into leadership roles, we can continue to make changes for a healthier population.
**What do you think of the proposed soda ban? Is it too “nanny state” of New York? Or should all states be enacting similar policies? Should the government have any control over what or how much food and drink we consume?
Video: A Debate About the Soda Ban