Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Debate Abounds over Bloomberg Ban

Last week's announcement by Mayor Bloomberg about new soda restrictions in New York City has the entire country aflame.  Having heard nothing but arguments against the proposed policy, I thought I'd take a stab at playing devil's advocate.

First, the government should not get to choose what I put into my body.
Here's where we need to clarify.  The bill put forth by Mayor Bloomberg does not ban soda.  The bill limits the vessel in which soda can be sold by fast food companies, movie theaters, and restaurants.  You can still go to the supermarket and buy 2 liters of Coca Cola.  You can still run to 7-11 and buy a Big Gulp.  You can still buy 2 or more drinks to get as much soda as you want.  Heck, the bill doesn't even cover free refills.  He's not taking away your right to drink as much sugary nonsense as you want.  He's telling the companies that they have to be more responsible about what they sell consumers: just like how food sellers have to provide a list of ingredients, nutrition facts, or even, simply, safe products.

And food sellers feel the threat.  Pepsico does not care about your health problems.  In fact, the more people in the country who have diabetes, the higher their profits (since sugary drinks are the #1 contributor of calories to the American Diet.)  Coca Cola went so far as to run this full pull page advertisement in the New York Times (pictured above) to smear the mayor's efforts.  They don't want you drinking less soda, so they'll frame this as an attack on your personal liberties rather than their business.

Let's pause now for a brief anatomy lesson.  The human adult stomach has a capacity of 32 ounces.  That means if you don't eat anything else, you can fit one large McDonald's soda in your stomach (which will then take 2 hours to leave said organ).  But people don't do that.  The soda accompanies their food and if you're drinking a large beverage, chances are you have a large order of fries sitting next to you.  Never mind the fat, never mind the sodium, the sheer amount of food and drink you are stuffing into your body is more than it can handle, causing the stomach to stretch beyond its capacity.  Stretch your stomach often enough and you will no longer feel that you are overeating.  Your stomach gets used to taking in massive amounts of food and you feel full later and later into a meal, making overeating par for the course and directly contributing to obesity.

Moreover, the decisions you make do not only affect yourself.  For instance, this newest crop of adults is the first generation to grow up "without mothers".  We are the first kids to grow up on Burger King diets because mom and dad both worked and there was no time or energy for anyone to cook.  I was taught how to cook when I was 7, so there was always someone around to make dinner, but I was the only one of my friends with that sort of lifestyle.  Every one else had parents who bought dinner every single night.  We are the first generation who, as a whole, did not grow up eating right, who did not learn how to cook.  Aside from a smattering of people here and there, my Facebook profile is inundated with friends who never cook.  They don't know how and they have no desire to learn.  My mom always said, after cooking a big dinner for the whole family, "Food tastes better when someone else has to make it."

We've created these lives that are unsustainable.  It is just about inconceivable nowadays to have one partner out of work voluntarily.  The days of the stay-at-home mom are over and replaced with a society of people who have to work their fingers to the bone just to get by.  I don't blame them for coming home and wanting someone else to cook.  I feel the same way, but I always (grudgingly) get it done.  Businesses will never self-regulate and people don't make good decisions when they're so exhausted, so the only answer seems to be to force a healthier choice.

How, exactly, will this work?  57% of hamburger business (Burger King, McDonalds, etc.) is conducted at the drive thru.  A whopping 12.4 billion fast food transactions occurred at the drive-thru window in 2011 alone.  With this new policy, that means 12.4 billion meals with a downsized drink.  Assuming people are not interested in buying more cups than they have cup holders, that would be at least a 180 calorie decrease per transaction or 2.232 billion calories cut (that is a very rough estimate though since not all transactions will have had a drink and some will have had multiple drinks while still more will have had diet drinks with no sugar in them).

The scary part is that I'm friends with people, with babies, who don't cook.  What chance does that child have if it's eating garbage every day?

It's a slippery slope to a dictatorship.
In the realm of public health, there has to be restrictions.  In 2002, reforms were put in place that banned smoking in public areas such as restaurants.  Within 9 years, the number of smokers in New York City declined from 22% to 14%, a decrease of 450,000 adults.  People fought that policy.  They used the same argument then as they do with this issue.  And that was even more of an "attack" on personal liberties since it did affect where you could use a product.  Looking back, does anyone miss walking into smoke-filled restaurants, choking on the smell of tar and nicotine?  The US also has one of the highest drinking ages in the entire world.  But that's not the federal government being a nanny.  All 50 states agreed individually to this drinking age because too many young people were dying.  The drinking age was raised in 1984.  The government did not go on a tear, stripping citizens of their rights. That's not what America is about-- and that's not how you get re-elected.  We saw a problem and fixed it as best we could.  That is what this new policy is.

Without government intervention, companies would still be able to sell us mystery meats and contaminated products while us work in unsafe conditions.

I'm not suggesting it is the company's duty to fix the nation's waistline.  Business is business.  You don't want to lose customers or profits.  At the same time, people are not making healthy choices and it's costing the nation $147 billion annually to pay for obesity-related health care issues.  We're already in a multi-trillion dollar debt.  Let's "trim the fat" where we can.  This is a public health crisis and something needs to be done.

Stomach Wiki
The Gazette
Washington Post
Washington Square News

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