MICHIGAN, June 2, 2012 – Mayor Bloomberg, flexing the government’s regulatory muscle, has proposed legislation banning sugary beverages over 16 ounces in New York city’s restaurants, sports venues, movie theatres, deli’s, and street carts.
His critics, furious over this measure, have nicknamed him “Nanny Bloomberg.”
Rather than fearing government overreach, however, they should look at the proposed ban through its appropriate lens-as a preventative health measure with the potential to combat obesity and its related diseases.
Bloomberg’s Past Health Initiatives
Bloomberg has been active in championing public health interventions during his three terms as Mayor. Some of Bloomberg’s health initiatives, while at first unpopular, set off a ripple effect, as other cities began adopting them. New York City, for instance, became the first to ban artificial trans-fats in restaurants and to increase transparency among chain restaurants by forcing them to put calorie counts on their menus. Soon after these measures were enacted, many cities followed their lead.
Last year, after the insistence of Bloomberg, New York City banned smoking in outdoor areas, such as public parks and beaches. While Mayor Bloomberg has largely been successful in passing his proposed health regulations, he did fail in passing legislation to have soda taxed, as well as in his attempt to prohibit the use of food stamps to purchase soda.
Mayor Bloomberg now seems determined to reduce consumption through a ban on large sugary beverages. The ban will primarily apply to sodas and fountain drinks that contain more than 25 calories per 8 ounces. Supermarkets and convenient stores will be exempt from this new regulation. Furthermore, diet drinks, juices, milkshakes, and alcohol will not be affected by this ban.
The proposal will go to New York’s Board of Health for a decision in June and is almost certain to pass since the Board is appointed by Bloomberg.
The American Beverage Association (ABA), which represents hundreds of beverage producers and distributors, appears rather distraught with the Mayor.
“The city is not going to address the obesity issue by attacking soda because soda is not driving the obesity rates,” said a spokesperson to the ABA. “Lack of exercise and poor eating habits are far bigger contributors to America’s weight woes,” according to a senior science consultant to the ABA.
Both these statements by the ABA seem to implicitly acknowledge that soda is a contributing force, but not a major one. The frightening thing about this is that they either do not recognize that effective public health campaigns take a holistic approach in tackling health issues, or are purposely downplaying the effect of consumption of soda on health by comparing it to the central role that exercise and diet play.
The latter interpretation seems to be fitting, since they have endorsed the notion that “carbonated soft drinks have occupied a unique place in the hearts, minds, and palates of the American consumer”.
Indeed, that statement should also be taken literally.
Soda Consumption on the Rise
Soft drink makers produce an astounding 10.4 billion gallons of soda each year, according to figures from the beverage industry. There is a reason so much is being produced; to meet the ever growing demand for the myriad brands of soda whose companies seduce consumers with fancy slogans such as “It’s that Refreshing,” or “Open Happiness.”
In fact, per capita intake of calories from sugar-sweetened beverages has increased nearly 30% in the past decade. Today, our daily intake of food consists of nearly 16% from sugar. The American Heart Association reports that adults are consuming on average 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, which equates to 355 calories from sugar. Even more astonishing is the fact that teens consume 28 teaspoons of sugar on average daily, which translates to approximately 476 calories consumed per day from sugar, or 20% of their total caloric intake.
High consumption of sugar is associated with higher heart disease risk factors, specifically greater levels of LDL (bad cholesterol).
What is behind this sugar binge? Sugary drinks—primarily soda.
Approximately half of Americans consume a can of soda, or sugary sports drink daily. One 12 oz. can of soda has approximately eight teaspoons of sugar and 140 calories (most of which come from sugar). The eight teaspoons in a single serving of soda surpasses the amount of sugar recommended by the AHA for women daily (six teaspoons daily), and nears that of what is recommended for men daily (nine teaspoons daily).
Bloomberg wants to ban the sodas larger than 16 oz. at restaurants such as McDonalds; the 21 oz. (medium size) and the 32 oz. (large size) sodas. A 32 oz. Dr. Pepper, for example, has a whopping 388 calories and 93 grams of sugar. When you couple the high calories with the high sugar, and account for the zero nutritional value afforded by sodas, it begins to shed some light on why Mayor Bloomberg has been so zealous in trying to curb soda consumption.
Studies Confirm Soda Consumption Increases Risk of Obesity, Type II Diabetes, and Heart Disease
A study by the University of Texas Health Science Center followed 1,550 people ages 25-64 for a period of eight years. They tracked the 622 study participants who were of normal weight at the start of the study, and explored why 1/3 of them had become overweight or obese.
Researchers discovered a common theme: the more soda they drank daily, the greater the likelihood that they became overweight or obese. For example, those drinking 1-2 cans of soda daily had a 33% increased likelihood of becoming overweight or obesity, while those drinking more than 2 cans of soda had a 47% increase in likelihood of becoming overweight or obese.
The Nurses’ Health Study tracked the health of nearly 90,000 women over two decades. Women who had one or more servings per day of a sugary beverage, such as soda or fruit punch, were twice as likely to have Type II diabetes than those who largely abstained from these beverages.
Moreover, women who drank more than two sugary beverages daily were 40% more likely to die from heart disease than women who rarely drank sugary beverages.
High Cost of Obesity Means Examining All Causes
There is no doubt that sugar gluttons are at higher risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses. Reading the ingredients on a soda label is enough to see how it can be detrimental to your health. This “liquid candy” may not be the driving force in causing obesity, but it is a force that needs to be confronted as part of a greater public health initiative.
Aside from the health risks it poses, it is having an adverse impact on our economy. Approximately half of the $79 billion spent annually due to health implications associated with being overweight and obese are being paid by tax payers to subsidize programs such as Medicare and Medicaid to care for these individuals.
Productivity in the workplace and school are also hampered when people are overweight or obese, leading to increased absenteeism and poorer school performance.
With obesity rates steadily increasing, and predicted to be over 40% by some experts in the next decade, there is a sense of urgency, and Mayor Bloomberg recognizes this. It may turn out that his proposed ban on large sized sodas turns out to be futile, yielding no results. People may very well circumvent the ban, and buy two 16-oz sodas to enjoy at the movie theatre, or they may just help themselves to refills at fast food restaurants.
But at the very least, this measure will increase awareness of the importance of moderation in food consumption, and alert people to the dangers of consuming large quantities of soft drinks. It may even refine the palate so we are no longer enamored by the taste of soda.
Continuing to stand idly by and hoping that the problem will fix itself, when it has perpetually worsened, seems to be welcoming with open arms the potential of a looming health crisis.
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