There has been a lot of buzz on the streets of New York City surrounding Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to ban sugary beverages larger than 16 ounces, at food providers regulated by the New York City Health Department. The recurring question is whether or not the government is overstepping its boundaries when it regulates what we can and cannot put into our bodies.
The short answer? There has never been a time that our government or municipalities did not regulate what we consume. In fact, legislations such as the Farm Bill even detrimentally contribute to obesity by subsidizing the mass production and inclusion of high fructose corn syrup — which many medical studies critcize for the addictive effects it has on nervous systems — into virtually everything that we eat.
The real questions that New Yorkers should be asking are: (1) Is this ban effective? And (2) Why aren’t the higher powers in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) fulfilling their role of addressing the public health of our nation?
Public health has always been and will always be a public issue that requires the government’s intervention. HBO’s highly-acclaimed documentary Weight of a Nation effectively draws attention to the role that policy has on the two-thirds of Americans who are either obese or overweight. From the USDA’s regulation of what counts as a vegetable serving in school lunches (french fries and pizza), to reevaluating the marketing and deceptive health claims made by manufacturers of sugary products (such as most cereals). It is no secret that the government has a stronghold on what is in our kitchen and stomachs. Instead of arguing over sodas, Americans should be more appalled that the government has mostly failed in its commitment to keep our nation healthy, thus driving up the cost of health care.
As it currently stands, the soda ban is toothless. If anything has been made clear by the rising costs and sin taxes on cigarettes, it is that people who are already hooked will cough up the money and find different ways to indulge themselves. A ban on a 32 ounce Coke bottle only means that the advent soda drinker will buy two 16 ounce drinks, creating an even greater incentive for stores to stock their refrigerators with bottles of sugar. Another shortcoming of the proposed policy is that corner grocery stores — which are most rampant in inner-city communities that are plagued by health issues and are subject to the brunt of unhealthy food marketing — are exempt. If someone does not want to pay for a McDonald’s meal that only comes with a 16 ounce beverage, then all they have to do is walk down the block to their nearest corner store and pick up a 2-liter Coke for the whole household.
Shortcomings aside, Mayor Bloomberg is still bold enough to do his job and take on public health issues that others shy away from. All Americans must confront the lack of urgency observed by the federal government when it comes to addressing nutrition and obesity. When big agriculture companies are getting money for the mass production of commodities with the use of questionable business tactics that hinder the success of family farms, it is rather befuddling how anyone could be sidetracked by debates over the size of a soda bottle in New York City. It is already established and undisputed that sugary drinks, including the "fruit" juices that often contain just as much added sugar as the demonized Coke bottle, are linked to the rise of obesity in America. In fact, sugary beverages account for the majority of our intake of added sugars. Instead of redefining the wheel, Americans need to educate themselves about the regulations and bodies that got the wheel rolling. Until obesity becomes as archaic of a public health issue as measles and mumps, the status quo must be challenged. America’s livelihood depends on it.