No more big gulps?

No more big gulps?

June 27th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

Michael Bloomberg

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Somebody save us from good things. Please.

Not really good things, of course: a father's guidance, a fine peach cobbler with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a cloudless summer day on the lake. We'll take all those we can get.

But some good things come with too high a price tag.

Who can blame New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the frustration and concern he feels over America's obesity problem? Who could fault him for seeking ways to help his city's millions of residents slim down?

But what Bloomberg doesn't get is that some prescriptions are worse than the diseases they are designed to cure. Worse still, some prescriptions do not even cure the disease.

In case you hadn't heard -- or thought somebody was pulling your leg -- the mayor has proposed a ban on sugar-sweetened soft drinks of more than 16 ounces at places such as sports arenas, restaurants and movie theaters. The city's Board of Health is expected to pass the ban when it votes in September.

"We've got to do something," Bloomberg told MSNBC.

That "something" is troubling, though, and it appears it may not do much good -- while manufacturing its share of problems. Since Bloomberg proposed his plan, authors of scientific studies he cites as justification say he is misinterpreting them.

"We fear ... that the proposed ban will be a huge setback to fighting obesity for two reasons: 1) unless it succeeds, it will poison the water for better solutions, and 2) it won't succeed," Dr. Brian Wansink, the John S. Dyson professor of applied economics at Cornell University, and David Just, associate professor of economics at Cornell, wrote recently on the website for The Atlantic.

Still, would reducing the consumption of high-sugar soft drinks be a good idea in principle? Sure. So would exercising more, getting adequate rest, eating a balanced diet in general and spending less time in front of the television.

But governmentally mandating more healthful habits or prohibiting less healthful ones -- such as large soft drinks -- creates a bigger problem than it even theoretically solves. It chips away at the foundation of a free society. And that foundation is already in trouble in the United States, what with massive federal intrusion in health care and the fiscal and tax threat posed by unchecked spending on entitlements.

A government that can dictate the foods and drinks that businesses may sell -- and the maximum serving sizes in which they may sell them -- is a government that can proscribe vastly more important liberties.

We do not have the option as a nation to protect only the right to vote or the right to worship or to speak your mind. Maintaining the robustness of our most precious freedoms requires us to protect "lesser" freedoms, too. And that includes the freedom to make some bad choices.

Mayor Bloomberg has rarely met a governmental "solution" that he doesn't like, and officials in New York predict that similar soft drink restrictions will sweep the nation.

Here's hoping they're wrong.