Monday, September 17, 2012

New York Imposes Soda Ban...What?!

Last Thursday, the New York Board of Health voted in favor of imposing a ban on sugar-sweetened beverages sized over 16 ounces. The ban, proposed by Mayor Bloomberg last May, will outlaw the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages larger than 16 ounces everywhere they are sold except grocery and convenient stores. The law is set to take effect next March, providing it isn't overturned by opponents in court first.

This is quite a controversial subject. Many (myself included) feel that it infringes on personal freedom. The single Board member who abstained from voting, a physician, said he was not convinced a ban would make a difference in fighting obesity. Supporters, including Bloomberg, note that it "will help save lives" by curbing obesity. Will a government-imposed nutritional restriction force people to make the right choice?

I guess it could. Restricting to 16 ounces versus 20 ounces of a sugary beverage would cut calorie intake by about 60. It might cause some restaurant-goers to choose a diet soft drink instead of regular so they can get a larger one. Or maybe they'll just go to the supermarket and get what they want. In some states, mandated laws forced restaurants to cut trans fat; that's not necessarily a bad thing. This was a step that forced restaurants to improve the quality of their products. Government is now forcing restaurants to post nutritional information on menus, which gives consumers the power to make a choice--a much better strategy in my book. The bottom line is, we should be promoting wellness with positive, not negative reinforcement, and providing access to education so that consumers are knowledgeable when it comes time to make a choice. Sugar-sweetened beverages can certainly be included in a healthy, balanced diet, as can other occasional indulgences.

With an epidemic of obesity contributing significantly to many of the health issues that plague our nation, there is no doubt that we need to do something. Healthcare costs are rising; and sometimes individual decisions affect the masses. But does that mean that nutritional restrictions should be government-imposed? Will that really cure what ails us? I'm not convinced.

Are you? What's your take on the mandate?