On September 12, NBC featured an article in their health section about New York City's recent ban on super-sized sugary drinks (http://todayhealth.today.com/_news/2012/09/12/13834093-nyc-passes-ban-on-supersized-sugary-drinks?lite). Last week, the NYC Board of Health approved a ban on sugary drinks over 16 ounces at restaurants, delis and movie theaters. The goal of this ban is to reduce excess calorie intake, which in turn, the board hopes, will reduce obesity. The article says, "The math behind the ban is simple: A 16-oz Coke has 200 calories [and] a 20-oz Coke has 240 calories...choosing the 16-oz bottle rather than the 20-oz would save you 14,600 calories a year, or equivalent to 70 Hershey bars. That is enough to add about four pounds of fat to a person's body."
When I first read this article, I was ecstatic. Afterall, banning super-sized sugary drinks, especially for kids, is a great way to reduce discretionary calories and impact obesity. As a math nut, the facts and figures made sense to me. But does it make sense?
This weekend, I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with my parents, particularly my dad. On my first night there, my parents and I sat in the den and chatted about politics. For the most part, our views on politics are very similar, making for a pleasant conversation. When we got to the discussion on the NYC drink ban, however, the conversation almost turned. My father has a very different view on the subject. He feels that the ban is just another way for the government to control our right to choose. Normally, our differences of opinion lead to debates. Instead of listening and fully understanding his side, I usually force my opinion on him and get defensive when he disagrees. In fact, I can often be so forceful in my debate techniques with my father that I shut him down completely, or push him to the defensive where he no longer chooses to even try to have a civil conversation. This time I tried a different tactic. Rather than forcing my views on him, I began asking him leading questions. I thought this strategy might make for a more pleasant discussion, but still result in him both seeing and agreeing with my side. Boy, was I wrong. My plan totally backfired!
It turns out that my father is right (yes Dad, that's in writing). My father said that although government should have some control over cigarette's, because second hand smoke affects other people, sugary drinks simply affect the person that is drinking them. When I asked him how he felt about the negative effect posed on children who see their parents drinking these sugary drinks, or even worse, get these drinks from their parents, he made a valid point...parents are in control of their own children. He went on to say that parents will always make mistakes in some shape or form, but it's up to the parent to raise and make decisions for their children. I saw his point. Some of us may not always agree with health decisions others make (ex: formula feed babies, abortion, sex before marriage, fried chicken versus grilled chicken, medication of kids with ADHD, etc), but those choices are the individuals' decisions to make. Our only job is to educate people so they know the risks and benefits of each health decision.
I also asked my father how he felt about the financial impact of obesity on rising health care costs over the long run, since these costs essentially hit our pockets. Shouldn't that give us a right to ban things that aren't healthy? But again, he was right. If we ban super-sized sugary drinks, where does the control stop? Yes, obesity leads to increased medical costs in the long run, but controlling soda is such a small part of controlling obesity. If soda is banned, what will be banned next? Should we ban the size of the KFC bucket that the family of four brings home? Should we ban salt at the dinner table? When we serve desserts at restaurants that are huge, should we only serve it to tables of 2+ people? If someone orders curly fries and mashed potatoes, should we tell them that they can only have one starch in one sitting?
By the end of our conversation we came up with a few ideas. First, instead of banning drink sizes, why don't we offer smaller ones as well, or change the word "kiddie size" to "mini size" and allow anyone to purchase them, not just kids? Dairy Queen recently did that with the addition of the mini size blizzard to their menu. What a lifesaver that has been for me. As many of you know, Dairy Queen blizzards are my weakness. When I was on Weight Watchers, a small Dairy Queen blizzard cost me 14 points...not to mention the calories and fat content. The mini, on the other hand, cost me only 7 points and left me satisfied. Instead of being forced to purchase the small and eat only half (which you know never happens), I was given the choice to purchase a smaller size that didn't make me feel guilty afterward and didn't tempt me to eat more.
Second, why not mandate that calorie, fat, sugar, and sodium content be posted everywhere? Post a sign next to the soda dispenser with calorie information. Let the customer know that an extra 3500 calories a week is an added 52 pounds a year. Then give the consumer the control to make their own decisions.
Third, mandate nutrition classes in school and maybe even at work. School students are required to take physical education, drug prevention classes, and sex education. Why not make it a requirement to sit through a semester of nutrition education? During these classes, the teacher can offer food tastings so children are introduced to healthy options they might not be introduced to at home. Perhaps it would make sense to host a field trip to the supermarket and invite parents, so everyone can be introduced to shopping "the perimeter" of the store.
There are so many things we can do, but "Big Brother" isn't one of them. Remember prohibition?