n Thursday, the New York City Board of Health approved Mayor Bloomberg's controversial soda ban prohibiting fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, movie theaters, and food carts from selling sugar-filled drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. The limit, however, does not apply to grocery stores, or to fruit juices and dairy-based beverages like milkshakes. While some 60 percent of New Yorkers oppose the ban, which won't take effect until March 2013, Bloomberg was pleased, tweeting that "[six] months from today, our city will be an even healthier place." But is imposing healthier restrictions really the way to go? Or does it turn New York into a nanny state?
It's a step in the right direction: Obesity kills 6,000 New Yorkers every year, more than any other health issue besides smoking, says Thomas Farley at the New York Daily News. Bloomberg's soda ban is "bold" but "completely appropriate": Sugary drinks are a key factor in the epidemic because they "deliver a load of sugar that has serious metabolic effects without making you feel full." When obesity kills, it leaves children without parents; when it doesn't, it taxes our healthcare system and leaves sufferers incapable of working. A portion cap won't fix the obesity problem, but at least it's a start.
"That 20 oz. sugary soda is a threat to public health"
It's over the top: "No one likes to be told what to do," says Ray Fisman at Slate. "And if the city is banning super-sized soda, some fear that it won't be long before the government will be forcing broccoli down our gullets." As an alternative, it's time to reconsider so-called sin taxes on unhealthy foods, which recent studies have shown to be effective. Even a "modest price difference between regular and diet soda" could prove helpful in convincing poor customers to switch drinks "rather than continuing to buy soda they can't afford." Just look at how effective New York City's cigarette tax has been in helping people drop the habit.
"Don't ban Big Gulps"
But setting limits has a proven track record: Bloomberg's past food and health regulations have worked, says Nadia Arumugam at Forbes. In 2005, the mayor instituted a ban of all trans fats from all restaurants in the city limits. Just two years later, a New York City Health Department study found that the ban helped curb incidence of heart disease. A 2008 ruling requiring restaurants to post calorie counts has made similar headway: A study of Starbucks outlets in New York showed that customers bought 6 percent fewer calories once the new menus rolled out. "Setting limits, and implementing bans are not infringing on personal freedom, but helpful ways of making it easier for people to simply say 'No.'"
"Why soda ban will work in fight against obesity; food regulations have proven record"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline
- Colorado’s new ‘drive high, get a DUI’ commercials are actually pretty clever
- Why is American internet so slow?
- 7 ways to be the most interesting person in any room
- Ukraine's fraught relationship with Russia: A brief history
- The GOP must try to win over African-Americans
- Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza's dad: 'I wish he'd never been born'
- 10 things you need to know today: March 10, 2014
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why is it so expensive to build a bridge in America?
Subscribe to the Week