Posted on March 12, 2013 by admin
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I think sugary beverages are a good nutrition choice or that they do not contribute to obesity. Nor am I in the camp that feels that any attempt at public policy to improve public health is an affront to all things democratic. However we do have to weigh the cost to personal freedom, against the magnitude of anticipated public health benefit. This is exactly what scares me. Mr. Bloomberg launched a policy that defies common sense and was so highly selective it would very likely be at risk for being largely ineffective; or at best have a very limited impact. It is clear given the reactions on both sides that there is at least some cost to both freedom of commerce and perceived freedom of personal choice. Now some will say it’s not so great a cost. That is often a very heated argument that is beyond my scope here. However, I will argue that Mr. Bloomberg’s reactionary and perhaps politically motivated actions (yes, all the press is likely pretty good for Mr. Bloomberg) with little evidence for anticipated benefit, can hurt attempts to implement well thought out, comprehensive, evidence based interventions in the future.
I will not take the time here to outline all that was problematic or potentially beneficial – many of my academic colleagues do that very well. However, to sum it up in an overly simplistic manner; there are strong arguments on both sides and the overall body of research on the effectiveness of such interventions is inconclusive as to the benefit – if any. Some studies say food bans work, some say they do not and none actually tests the specific and uniquely flawed approach proposed by the Mayor.
As the court decision pointed out, the plan lacked comprehensive application and had abundant loopholes. For example it allowed “Giganto” Lattes and Milkshakes while restricting other beverages like cranberry juice. It also allowed sales in supermarkets to continue unchecked (which you know the innovative ‘street entrepreneurs’ in NYC would quickly turn into an opportunity somehow). The logic behind all the products and venues that were not included vs. included still escapes me.
Those in favor of the Mayor’s plan often point to his stop-smoking initiative. Yes it does seem to have worked but no, it’s not an appropriate comparison for the very reasons stated above – Consistency and uniformity of application. If the Mayor had applied his soda ban logic to smoking, then it would have looked like this. He would have banned the selling of cigarettes in corner stores and a few other select venues but not in larger stores and not other venues. He would have said it applies only to menthol…perhaps excluding cigars too. Why do I say this? 1) Soda is clearly a contributor to obesity, but accounts only for a fraction of total calories consumed 2) Only a limited number of people who struggle with weight consume excess sugared beverages (that’s right – not every obese person guzzles soda – we all get our extra calories from many sources). Therefore, the comparison to a single type of cigarette being banned seems plausible. But WAIT THERE’S MORE. Smoking had nothing to do with limiting commerce – it limited venues for consumption. Apples and Oranges.
So while I think public policy may help to improve public health, I don’t think this one being shot down is a huge loss in the bigger scheme of things.
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