Smarten up

Yesterday, chatting with a mom at the bus stop, we got on the topic of healthy eating, nutrition, and how informed parents really are about what constitutes junk food. She said she believes that, especially in our area, parents are pretty well-educated when it comes to providing healthy food for their kids. I respectfully disagreed, though I did acknowledge that my junk-food radar is on high alert, and I’m more apt to focus on the unhealthy food I see kids eating.

So I had nutrition I.Q. on my mind this morning when I opened up the paper and saw this headline:

Super-size sodas target of proposed N.Y.C. ban

It seems Mayor Michael Bloomberg is championing a ban on large servings of sugary drinks at restaurants, sports arenas, delis, and movie theaters in the New York area. A “small” 16 ounce soda would be the largest size available for sale at those venues.

Bloomberg defends the proposed ban, saying it’s a necessary weapon in the fight against rising obesity rates. Opponents of what would be the first-ever wide-spread restriction on soda portions accused the mayor of creating a “nanny state,” taking away people’s right to choose what they consume.

Well, I don’t know about that. I mean, you could always choose to buy two sodas if you really want that much.

City officials believe the Bloomberg-appointed Board of Health will approve the ban, and it may take effect as soon as March.

As you might imagine, the soft drink industry is thrilled.

“The people of New York City are much smarter than the New York City Health Department believes,” a Coca-Cola spokesperson said. “New Yorkers can expect and deserve better than this. They can make their own choices about the beverages they purchase.”

Yes, yes they can. Here’s a map from the CDC showing where past choices have put them.

In case your US geography is a little rusty, New York is up there in the corner. It’s tan. Not terrible, but not great.

Here’s the map with 1985 statistics, when New York weighed in with less than 10 percent obesity. Quite a difference 20-plus years and increased portion sizes makes.

I don’t believe the vast majority of Americans are as smart as we’d like to think. Especially when it come to liquid calories. I just don’t. That may be a harsh assessment, but the data shows a harsh reality. I don’t, however, think this ban is the right course of action.

Mayor Bloomberg is clearly well-intentioned, and on some levels, I think more government intervention is needed and appropriate. Schools should ban sugary drinks and other over-processed, nutrient-void foods. Business leaders who want to change the health and culture in their companies should have the right to clean up their vending machines and cafeterias. Federally funded organizations should have to meet certain health and nutrition standards. And the government should fight tooth and nail against big food corporations with a vested interest in our continued love affair with crappy food. Yet, even with my anti-sugary drink mantra, I’m not sure banning biggie size sodas from the local movie theater is the right answer. People get really mad about that kind of thing.

Nope, I think the clue to fixing this enormous problem starts with addressing the mistaken idea that we know better. We don’t. Let’s just assume we know nothing, and focus our efforts on education, education, education. If people take responsibility for their health, and learn how to make better choices, the Big Gulps of the world will gradually disappear because we will stop buying them.

It’s a radical idea, I know, but I have to believe it will work. What do you think?


4 thoughts on “Smarten up

  1. Bill says:

    Again, very well done. You have the right instincts on the isssue of over-sized drinks, as well as most other issues. I have a very bright daughter-in-law!

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