I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about the legal ban on big soft drinks passed in NYC last week. The city Board of Health approved the proposal by a vote of 8 to 0 amidst protest from the beverage industry. The law prohibits restaurants, food carts and other vendors from selling sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces. It’s undeniable that there is zero health benefit in consuming any quantity of soft drink, but should we be given that choice or not? Should our government mandate the amount and extent of our unhealthy choices? There is, after all, no ban on selling liters of beer. One could argue that a liter of beer is too much to consume in one sitting. Or king-sized candy bars. Or any number of oversized products that have become commonplace and perhaps even normal in our society.
However, as prickly as I might feel regarding my rights to make bad choices for myself, I have to say also that I get it. Something has to be done to encourage a reversal of the current trend of increasing obesity and the related health problems. The NYC Board of Health cited that 58% of adults in the big apple are overweight or obese, and nearly 40% of the city’s public school-enrolled children fall into the same category. It is logical that larger portion sizes lead to greater consumption, and certainly we should be encouraging lower consumption of high-calorie foods and beverages with no nutritional value to help curb the trend of increasing obesity. But how do we do that best?
I am not sure what the answer is here. The libertarian side of me that has endless faith in humanity says that instead of legislating portion sized we should educate more intensely regarding diet and nutrition, teaching people to make healthy choices and leaving those choices to them. The liberal side of me, though, wonders why we should let big brands play on public ignorance to encourage overconsumption. There is big money in super-sizing it. Maybe the government has an obligation to its people to protect them from that influence?
It’s a complicated issue, one that makes me happy to not be a public policy-maker. In my role as domestic policy-maker, however, it’s a much clearer issue. We have a strict rule about soda consumption: it is permitted only on Sundays and in small portions. We don’t buy soda or junk food for our house, ever, but we find the Sunday rule allows us to limit the consumption to a minimum without placing a total ban on it while we are out at restaurants or friends’ homes. Making something forbidden often backfires and makes it more appealing. So when our kids ask for soda on any other day, we answer with a “Hmm, what day is today?”.