published Monday, September 17th, 2012

A step toward better health

The New York City Board of health approved a rule late last week that will ban the sale of large — more than 16 ounces — sodas (that's soft drinks in this part of the country) and other sugary drinks in restaurants, theaters and delis beginning in March. Approval pleased and angered, it seems, an equal number of individuals. The former believe the ban will improve community health; the latter chafe at what they call as unnecessary Big Brother intrusion. Whatever the case, the ban and its possible effects deserve close study in coming months and years.

If, as many medical professionals and nutritionists suspect, the ban leads to healthier eating choices, it could prompt similar legislation elsewhere. Area and regional lawmakers and residents, in fact, should follow such studies closely. Tennessee and neighboring states are in the obesity-diabetes-high-blood-pressure belt of the nation, and indication that improved health is a result of the ban will quickly draw attention. How could it not?

If a ban eventually leads to better community health, public officials in Tennessee and elsewhere should consider following suit. They would have to contend with those who oppose government intrusion in their daily lives, but that should not halt the effort. There's good reason to take such a step.

Any improvement in public health could prompt significant cost savings for the state and its residents. Both currently spent enormous amounts to treat obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other maladies directly related to poor diet, and especially the consumption of high-calorie but nutritionally empty drinks and foods. Improvements in diet should lead to fewer illnesses, a better quality of life for individuals and a reduction in spending -- all desirable outcomes.

It may be difficult, however, to connect the ban on sugary products with improved health for New York City residents. The ban is not inclusive. It covers only establishments -- restaurants, theaters, stadiums, etc. -- that are inspected by the health board. Convenience stores, vending machines and some stand-alone sites that sell the products are not covered. Moreover, there's nothing in the rules that prohibits someone in, say, a fast-food restaurant from purchasing a 12-ounce drink and then refilling it two or three times during a meal. But while it might be difficult to fully calculate benefits of the ban, few believe there will be none.

Americans have increased their daily caloric intake by 200-to-300 calories since the mid-1970s even as they've become far more sedentary. The combination of more calories and less exercise is dangerous and, in many cases, deadly. A ban on large-sized sugary drinks in one city — even the nation's largest — won't resolve the problem, but it can help.

Hopefully, New York City's action will energize conversation about poor nutrition and the culture — lack of education, the high cost of feeding a family, food deserts, etc. — that contribute to obesity. Indeed, it already has done so if the amount of newsprint, air time and space on the social media devoted to the ban recently is a reliable measuring stick. Such talk is not only informative, it can be contagious and thus spread the gospel, so to speak, about the need to make better and healthier food choices.

If that's the case, New York's ban, controversial as it is, could prove to be a catalyst for a beneficial national dialogue that ultimately and positively changes the way Americans view food. That would be welcome.

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EaTn said...

It's not about choice, but about protecting the rights of the taxpayers who generally pickup the health care tab of the obese who don't have insurance nor money to pay.

September 17, 2012 at 5:18 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Back in the days when scientists were discovering and then coming to a consensus on the link between cigarette smoking and cancer, and the government began making laws restricting its use in public places, we had the usual outcry at the time from the "individual choice" crowd, whose "rights" were being violated. Now we are aware (for those of us, at least, who still believe in science) of the definite link between high-sugar, hi-fat foods and things like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other illnesses.

It wasn't too long ago that there was no such thing as "super sizing." It was a marketing ploy dreamed up by McDonald's to tempt the gullible public to pay a little more money for a lot more of high-fat fries and over-sweetened drinks. It worked even better than they imagined and the idea spread to other fast-food chains. People have become so accustomed now to the larger sizes that they don't even think of their sodas or fries as being "super sized," they have simply become accustomed to eating and drinking pig-size portions as the norm.

The ones crying about their individual rights being taken away are the ones who don't even realize how they were subtly manipulated by the ad-men and the marketing industry to fall for their marketing gimmick in the first place. The NYC ban on those insanely large portions is not dictating how much we can eat or drink, it's merely making fast food chains and other restaurants be a little more accountable and helping the public to make better choices. The pigs who feel that they need 48 oz. of soda and a tray full of french fries can still buy all they want - they just have to make an extra trip to the cashier or ask for 2 or 3 or 4 servings at once.

I know that's a huge "freedom" to be deprived of, but such us life in this dark, evil socialist world under Obama and mayors like Bloomberg. It just won't seem like America any more without being able to drink our Coke from a barrel, will it? Oink.

September 17, 2012 at 12:43 p.m.
Easy123 said...

JonRoss,

Your slippery slope argument is fallacious.

Try again.

September 17, 2012 at 4:08 p.m.
Easy123 said...

JonRoss,

You're talking out of your ass, as usual. :-)

September 17, 2012 at 5:18 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

The typical right wing response (besides saying profound things like "Meechelle Obama...just needs to go to hell") for any nationwide problem like lack of health care for millions of Americans or lack of decent paying jobs is to do NOTHING. They seem to think that the magic hand of the free market will step up and fill the void. But we continue to languish in a jobs and health care crisis, with no apparent remedy on the horizon.

The party of NO just keeps on doing what it does best - nothing. They can only criticize and blame government, or Obama, for trying, all the while coming up with NO plans of their own.

Oh wait...they do have a plan, don't they? Everybody just be good boys and girls, eat an apple a day, don't have sex, and live right and pray to God and you'll never get sick or need to go to the doctor. That'll take care of all of our health care problems. And as for jobs...well, McDonalds' and Taco Bell are always hiring. So, what jobs crisis, right?

September 17, 2012 at 6:07 p.m.
Easy123 said...

JonRoss,

And the Federal government isn't doing that. So rest easy.

September 18, 2012 at 11:04 a.m.

Indeed, nobody federal going to come to you and tell you what you can and can't eat.

What you can ship across state lines, or into/out of the the country, now that's commerce, which the federal government can and does justly regulate.

Sorry about that, but it's right there in the Constitution.

Here's a compromise though, instead of banning the sale, require the company to post how much profit they'll make from it. I'm sure free market types will support that.

September 18, 2012 at 11:11 a.m.
NirvanaFallacy said...

The Progressive choice makes little sense when one thinks of the unintended consequences (which surprisingly few politicians ever do). The following comes from a recent article written by economist Gary Becker:

Another example concerns the growing obesity of adults and teenagers that presumably encouraged Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal on sugary drinks, and related proposals by others. One argument behind these proposals is that many adults and teenagers do not know the health consequences of their diets and lifestyles. That may well be true for some consumers, but most consumers may be rationally trading off the negative long run effects on their health for more immediate enjoyment from French fries, cheeseburgers, and other weight-raising foods. One should require evidence that the great majority of obese adult individuals do not make the connection with health before trying to restrict their consumption.

This is even aside from the fact that many of the proposed restrictions, such as Bloomberg’s, would not reduce obesity by much, if at all. His proposal might even increase the use of sugary drinks. Suppose that drinks come only in 10 and 16-ounce sizes. If the 16-ounce size were banned, enough consumers might substitute 2 10-ounce drinks for 1 16-ounce drink to increase total consumption of these drinks. Of course, the drink market might respond with offering other sized drinks, but the main point would still hold that the ban could raise consumption of sugary drinks.

Children are less likely than adults to make an effective trade off between current pleasures and future costs. This is a traditional reason for distinguishing between children and adults in formulating policies. The implication in the case of sugary drinks would be to restrict access by children to these drinks. For example, these drinks could be banned from schools and other places where children congregate, or young persons might not be allowed to purchase these drinks. However, concern about children’s consumption does not justify restricting the choices of adults as well.

A different reason sometimes used to justify government policies to reduce obesity is that obese adults are less healthy, and thereby make greater use of a health care system financed mainly by taxpayers. There is merit to this argument, but it is tricky because no one would reverse this argument and say obesity should be encouraged if obese individuals spent less on health care over their lifetimes because they died sufficiently earlier. Note that the mortality effect does not per se enter into externality calculations since (rational) individuals consider the effects of their behavior on their own life expectancy.

In summary, even when consumer decisions are not in their self-interest, it is questionable whether that provides sufficient grounding for government efforts to regulate and tax these decisions.

www.becker-posner-blog.com/2012/06/controls-over-consumer-choices-becker.html

September 18, 2012 at 3:03 p.m.
CathyB3 said...

We tax the dickens out of tobacco and alcohol because they are known to be health hazards.

Sugar is a potent hazard to indivual health. So tax it to pay for the cost of the problems caused by its consumption. All shall be free to buy and consume what they wish -- just don't pass the expense of your health problems caused by sugar indulgence on to others (esp. those who abstain.).

September 18, 2012 at 4:19 p.m.
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