The New York City Board of Health approved a ban on the sale of sodas and other sugary drinks larger than 16 oz. today. Wails of “hands off my Big Gulp” and “nanny-nanny boo-boo state could be heard for blocks.” (Not really.)
Doctors, health officials and advocates, on the other hand, are, if not rejoicing, at least sitting there satisfied with some kind of regulation over junk food, a step in finding solutions to what many believe is an obesity crisis in the U.S.
No one is expecting miracles in a 16-oz or smaller cup.
As Carolyn points out, you can still get a Big Gulp in all five boroughs. What doctors and others like about the ban is that it has people talking — for now. As Associated Press reporter David B. Caruso writes, the success or failure of this ban hinges “on whether the first-in-the-nation rule starts a conversation that changes attitudes toward overeating.”
“There are so many factors that are acting in this complex disease. Obesity is not just a disease simply of people drinking too much sugary soft drink,” he said. “Just attacking one thing, individually, isn’t going to do much.”
But if the rule is part of a broader social and scientific assault on the dangers of too much sugar, he said, it could be tremendously effective. He likened it to the drumbeat about the dangers of smoking, which took decades to translate into results.
So what might that conversation look like? First, maybe people will ask, “why ban super-sized Cokes at McDonald’s and not Venti (and Trenta) Iced Caramel Frappucinos from Starbucks? Why is limit it to 16 ounces. Why not 12? What’s the difference?”
Or maybe people will say, “isn’t it funny how they follow a Jennifer Hudson Weight Watchers with Chili’s new hot wings menu? We get a lot of mixed messages in our daily lives, don’t we?”
People will ask, “what next, mayonnaise?” Or, “if they want me to be healthy, why don’t they build sidewalks/offer gym memberships/get my neighborhood a farmers market instead of screwing with my Dr. Pepper?”
Maybe someone will ask why the mayor is getting involved? (Others might ask why not THEIR mayor?)
The thing is, industry self-regulation is about as promising as personal self-regulation in a land of excess. It’s hard, it’s too tempting not to. Big sizes and bad ingredients have become so normalized, we’re so used to them. The drinks are so cheap that the smallest sizes appear unreasonably expensive — $1.69 for that?! 32 ounces used to be enormous and felt oh, so valuable (99 cents!).
People and food manufacturers and distributors could use a little jolt, a little discussion. Some ridicule and also reality. I think the New York City ban will be just that.
Also, regulation can work — just look at McDonald’s. They want to shed their fat-maker suit so, ahead of a federal law that would require them to post calorie counts in the coming year, they’re going to post them on Monday. The New York City big soda ban goes into effect March 12.
So many people talk about the “nanny state” trying to run our lives, but what we don’t see is that food corporations have a far greater influence on us than we ever acknowledge. At least a ban on enormous sodas is supposed to benefit us. Corporations are mainly interested in exploiting us.
Do you like the ban? Think it will lead to more bans? More discussion?
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