To Ban or Not to Ban: The Sugary Drink Dilemma

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I’m sure that you have all by now (hopefully) heard of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban on super sized sugary drinks. I hope. Unless you’ve been living under a rock. But just in case you have been, let me enlighten you. Over the past few days, there has been a tabloid frenzy over a proposed sugary drink ban in NYC. This doesn’t just include soda but any beverage over 16 oz that contains sugar. Sugar water, soda, vitamin water. Anything! And this ban could take effect as early as next March. Of course, as soon as this story hit the interweb, everyone had something to say. Well so do I. Now everyone pull up a chair and get comfortable.

Before I get to the exciting part of my argument, let me first outline the facts. Because sometimes I feel like people miss them. Then I’ll take a look at some of the positive aspects of this potential ban before moving swiftly on to the negatives. Disclaimer – this is all my opinion. I’m still a student so someone will most likely find something flawed with what I say but I’m going to try my very hardest to back it up. Sound good? And if you have a problem with it — see that little red x button in the top right (or left if you’re a mac user) corner of your screen? Click it. Now that we’ve established that, onward to the facts…

The Facts (see the CDC for more details)

  • More than 1/3 of US adults are obese
  • 12 states have an obesity prevalence of 30% or more as of 2010
  • Alabama currently has the highest prevalence of obesity. 32.2% of the population is currently obese.
  • Obesity is a direct contributor to a variety of non-communicable diseases that are most burdensome (heart disease, cancer and stroke are among the nation’s leading causes of death)
  • Total medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion in 2008

Now do me a favor and check out this video. It shows growth in obesity prevalence through the years. Go ahead, I’ll wait….

Did you watch it? Excellent. Shocked yet? Now if you feel like you’ve got a good understanding of the problem, you may proceed to read the rest of this blog. But if not you can either re-read the facts until they’ve solidified into your brains or you can play around here.

Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s start with the positive aspects of this proposed ban. First and foremost, I think it’s a step in the right direction. Sugar is a major contributing factor to the obesity epidemic. The ban shows that it’s starting to sink into policy makers heads that this is a MAJOR PROBLEM and their support is needed. Not just nationally but internationally as well. And not just because of the short term effects of obesity but because of the long term non-communicable disease burden. Which will cost governments billions in the long run if steps are not made toward obesity prevention and treatment right now. In short, we’re starting to get through to them and that is a very good thing. Secondly, all of this hoopla is raising awareness. People are getting involved, seeing the facts and maybe even finding it in themselves to make a change. Thirdly, Bloomberg has driven home the point of living a balanced healthy lifestyle over and over again (even to the point where he publicly supported national doughnut day today saying that one doughnut will not hurt us). I think this is really important to remember and even if it takes a ban on over-sized sugary drinks for this to get through than that’s great. Balance is what it’s all about. Finally, the ban may very well force change in some people’s lives. It may just be the straw the breaks the camel’s back for some people. Even if it doesn’t change everyone, it has the potential to change someone. And any impact is good no matter how small. Can we all take a line from Horton Hears a Who, please? Say it with me… “a person’s a person no matter how small.”

As I mentioned earlier, now I’ll delve into what I think the negatives are.

  1. Where is the data? I’ve read article upon article regarding the ban but nobody seems to know why exactly they’re banning sugary beverages over 16 ounces. We can all pretend that lifestyle changes will just magically happen on their own when 16 oz beverages are wiped from shelves but I won’t believe it until I see it. Show us the rationale!
  2. I said this when they started banning soda in schools and I’ll say it again. If people want it they will find it. Sure, you may not be able to buy anything over 16 oz but people will still buy sugary beverages because there’s no effort being made to change those behaviors. It’s hard to lose weight and keep it off because you have to change the way you think and operate. Let me conclude this point with a little analogy. I happen to have the world’s most dangerous sweet tooth. People know better than to tell me I can’t have my daily dose of chocolate. I will consume a certain amount regardless of how much comes in a package. We’ve all been there – you’re staring at the dessert menu in a restaurant and nothing’s striking you. But you still want dessert. So what do you do? Head to the nearest icecream shop. Or make sundaes at home!
  3. There’s also potential for defiance, don’t you think? People see this as the government having too much control over their choices. I don’t like to dwell on the politics of all this but it’s worth mentioning. Government involvement is necessary but when there’s too much of it, we can start to have problems. Like when you’re mom tells you that you shouldn’t be doing something. It makes you want to do whatever it is she doesn’t want you to do. Just because!

I could go on but I think it’s better to keep it to a few salient points for now until this story develops further. I think there are better ways to tackle the obesity problem. We need to change behaviors but we can’t do it by forcing people through bans and taxes. The one exception to this that I am happy to support is banning advertising of unhealthy products to young children but that’s a different story for another day. One initiative that I really advocate for is small steps campaigns to address obesity particularly focusing on getting people MOVING. If we can motivate people to make small changes in their lifestyles right now, it can make a much larger impact later in terms of both prevention and treatment of obesity. Small changes can include taking the stairs (click here for some entertainment), and making small changes to the diet each day. There’s no one way to address this problem but if we keep interested and keep balanced, we just might get somewhere.

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