Call New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg any name you want — nanny, ninny, he doesn’t care. He’s determined to fight his city’s obesity problem with whatever it takes — like the ban on outlandishly large sodas approved by his Board of Health Thursday — and even if the measure is largely symbolic, it’s hard not to admire him for it.
Obesity is a super-sized problem for his city, and the rest of the country, really. It causes serious health problems, like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, that cut people’s lives short and cost them, and their insurers, countless amounts of money. When the patient is on Medicaid — as many in New York City are — what happens to them is the public’s responsibility, so it’s not unreasonable for the public to take some interest.
Bloomberg’s ban does not prevent people from buying their favorite sugary sodas, only enormous servings of them. And only in restaurants, movie theaters and cafeterias — not in bodegas, supermarkets or convenience stores. It can be easily circumvented by anyone so inclined, by buying two 16-ounce servings instead of a single 32-ounce one.
The mayor’s plan is designed to get people to think about what they’re drinking, and maybe not drink so much. When it comes to sugary sodas, that’s a good idea because they’re loaded with nutritionally empty calories which do nothing but put weight on sedentary people. There are far better ways to quench one’s thirst; that’s Bloomberg’s message.
Sure, plenty of people already know that and don’t need the government telling them. Others feel it’s OK for the government to tell, but that’s as far as it should go. The problem is these measures haven’t worked: Too many New Yorkers are still drinking too much soda and getting too fat. (An estimated 50 percent of New York’s population is either overweight or obese.) And it’s costing the city billions in health care.
Studies show that when people eat in restaurants that post the calorie content of menu items (another idea of Bloomberg’s), they eat a bit less or choose less-fattening foods. (McDonald’s, to its credit, announced last week that it will start posting this information shortly, instead of waiting for a new federal law to take effect.) The jumbo soft drink ban is designed to do much the same. And while it may make it less convenient and more expensive for consumers, they still can drink more soda if that’s what they want.