The reaction to Mayor Bloomberg’s demand that sugary soft drinks be limited to 16 oz cup size has been surprising. Some of the same people who support measures restricting individual rights in favor of group safety or health (banning smoking in public places) were outspokenly opposed to this rather innocuous suggestion. First, let’s establish that this will apply only to drinks sold in public entertainment venues such as movie theaters and stadiums; people who wish to gulp more than 2 cups at a time (16oz) will be free to do that at home and in theaters if they just purchase another cup. If you are a moviegoer, you know that the smallest cup of soda an adult can buy at a multi-plex costs $4.50 and gives you as much liquid as 3 bottles from an old fashioned six-pack which used to contain a mere 6.5 ounces each. How many times have you found yourself emptying several bottles of soda into a pitcher before watching a movie on tv? Now let’s consider the experiments that have already been done concerning portion control, namely, that giving people smaller sized plates at a cafeteria or buffet results in their consuming fewer calories. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so do people who like to eat - they tend to fill and consume whatever size container they’re given. Those who don’t, probably don’t have weight problems but 6l.6% of Americans are either overweight or obese.
We’ve banned cigarette advertising and smoking in public places as an acknowledgment that cigarettes affect public as well as individual health. The attempt to reduce the intake of sugar is a tiny acknowledgment that we have a growing epidemic of diabetes in our country. It now ranks third on the list of serious diseases and kills more people than breast cancer and AIDS combined. Shouldering its national yearly cost exceeding 174 billion dolllars, we should be encouraging innovative ways to tackle this scourge and to reduce the enormous financial burden on taxpayers for all the ramifications of diabetic care. The next time you’re on a subway, bus or plane, look around and see how many spaces designed to be passenger seats are partially occupied by another passenger’s bulky body mass. Though it may not be as harmful as second hand smoke, the cost of re-designing public facilities and transportation and the problems of managing the needs of chronically ill adults and children is a primary concern of government. The bottom-line cause of obesity in our super-size fast-food nation is overeating, and one of the easiest ways to lose track of calories is to drink them. It takes longer to chew a bucket of popcorn than to drink a 20 oz container of coke containing 91 grams of sugar. According to the American Heart Association, we have consumed between 150 -300 extra calories a day over the past 30 years, accounting for the rise in obesity; 50% of those calories come from sugary drinks. The recommended amounts of daily added sugar intake are 36 grams a day for men, 20 grams a day for women and 12 grams a day for children. Try reconciling that with just one large cup of soda at the movies and you’ll see the extent of the problem.
The NYTimes applauds Michelle Obama for her attempts to focus on and combat childhood obesity but castigates the mayor for this very gentle infringement on our ability to monitor ourselves. As someone who has taken issue with Mr. Bloomberg more often than not, I give him credit for taking this initiative to fight the profiteers of super-sizing and make people more aware of how their eating habits have been and continue to be adversely manipulated. When 20 oz is called “small,” people are being conditioned to consume larger amounts than they can possibily metabolize. Ironically, it’s the so called nanny mayor who is trying to undo this manipulation by restoring a healthier balance to the amount of soda dispensed. An individual isn’t “free” to make choices if hidden persuaders have corrupted the truth of what’s being offered - even a 16 oz beveral is not small - it’s double the size of a standard cup.
Government has traditionally restrained individual rights in areas of public health and safety. It has mandated seat belts, helmets, acceptable amounts of alcohol for driving, childhood vaccinations and inoculations and smoking in public places. The restriction on the size of sugary drinks is an attempt to make a dent in what is fast becoming a public health emergency as diabetes moves into the category of major childhood diseases. For those who see this as a slippery slope issue, I would say that profiting off the sale of gargantuan sizes of potable poison is already too far down that hill. We need to do much more to move back to healthy diets and activity - moderating the size of soda portions is one small step in the right direction.
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