Proposed Soda Ban as Healthy
Measure or Ruling on Life Style
Does soda make you fat? This line of inquiry has become a battlefield far beyond that one fought over in bedrooms of America, between significant others out for a brawl or fishing for a compliment. As it turns out, even sweet drinks are political artifacts and, as with everything else, personal choices often take a whole village by storm.
Ideally, if you don’t believe the hype, you wouldn’t be drinking sugary drinks for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But there’s no such luck in this world. Now, saying that yes, soda does make you fat, places you in the unsavory company of a diminutive billionaire mayor, who may have a point. And saying no, in this case, means saying yes, It’s confusing.
But it shouldn’t be. There’s nothing wrong with politicizing an issue that after all involves a multibillion-dollar global industry and a public health crisis, in the context that it is, indeed, your right to ingest whatever you want, for as long as you’re don’t impose it on anyone, or set a poor example to your kids. Who’re not about to agree with you anyway, but at times, do follow you.
While banning something by law doesn’t have a great track of accomplishing the intended results (for that, see Drugs, War on), there’s merit in trying to monitor and regulate what’s been sold to children. Curiously, while many feel uncomfortable with some of their bedfellows in the anti-soda trenches, those who easily invoke ‘freedom’ to oppose any ban seem to be fine with their own brothers in arms.
If these past few weeks can serve to any purpose, they’ve shown that the tactics used by those being paid for by the industry to picket movie theaters and malls, with questionnaires about ‘choice’ and ‘what would you do if?’ are quite familiar. They eerily resemble the same tactics that activists for anti-gun control laws, climate-change deniers and even anti-abortion zealots routinely use.
They’re always there to get your vote for their cause, but are hardly visible in the aftermath of another mass shooting, or at the scene of freaky tornado’s destruction wake, or even worst, when kids of teenager mothers and broken homes desperately need help, and money, for staying in school or out of trouble.
THE CASE OF MIKE B.
Through three terms, the mayor of New York City has been a vocal, if not always tactical, advocate for several causes dear to his heart. That’s the good way of seeing his actions. Unfortunately, unlike matters of health and fitness, which granted, he’s usually right on the money, much of everything else he professed to believe in are, at least, questionable.
For instance, regardless his intentions, when he successfully wrestled control of the New York public school system, he quickly disavowed unions and imposed a misguided teacher evaluation system pegged to children’s scores. He promoted a sweeping rezoning of the city, but never considered that the middle class and the poor also deserve to live in Manhattan, not miles from it.
While luxury condos and real estate skyrocketed under his watch, middle and low-income housing construction halted to a grind. He did nothing to prevent the sale of even traditional bastions of working families in the city, such as the Stuyvesant and Peter Cooper towns, to giant realtors who profited enormously from it, even if ultimately wound up failing to properly manage it.
But his bans on indoors cigarette smoking and trans-fats used in restaurant food had solid medical research backing them, and haven’t really frozen the hell over, as their opponents were claiming they would. His current fight over the sale of open containers of 16oz of sugary drinks is also connected with his wish to reduce salt consumption by New Yorkers. Which are a weary and savvy bunch, specially about those who claim to be on their side.
In fact, in one of his sole public displays of caring for the city’s homeless population, he went ahead and banned food donated to shelters, because it’d be hard to analyze the amount of trans-fat and salt they contained. In other words, the surgery was a success. The patient, however, died.
ABSENT PUBLIC & MEA CULPAS
That’s so with Mike B., a man known for unwavering opinions about everything, and at same time, a chockfull of contradictions. And so are we. Full disclosure: we were against the ban on cigarettes in bars, because we don’t believe in bans, and, come on, this is New York. But we’ve changed our minds when our hair and clothes stopped smelling like ashtrays, every time we went out.
But that’s what makes so uneasy to line up next to the mayor, even when he claims to have our best interests at heart. As expected, the only scheduled public hearing on the proposed soda ban had plenty of industry lobbyists, health professionals and academics, and almost no independent voices, meaning members of the public, all arguing before a mayor-appointed board.
Perhaps the most startling disclosure to come out of this debate came from a former top Coca-Cola marketing executive, Todd Putman, who worked there over 10 years ago. In a public health officials and community activists conference in DC, last month, Putman executed the rare act of public contrition ever performed in this country by any former or current professional of such a wealthy industry.
Despite being dismissed by a company spokesperson, he did present slides with past promotional campaigns he helped put together, all too obvious emphasizing the glamourous aspects of consuming a carbonated drink (the fast cars, the ‘loose’ women, the youth culture, all that). Just like the cigarette industry had done for almost a century. Then again, can you blame them for not disclosing the harm their products may cause?
Because the trouble with this view, that we’re actually hopeless to resist the appeal of a commercial product, being a can of soda or a pack of cigarettes, is that it implies no one knows that they’re harmful, at least consumed in that scale. Well, people were really kept in the dark about the smoke-cancer connection, but the link between sugar and obesity has been established long ago.
THE BAD, THE GOOD & THE POOR
Food companies in general, and sugary drink producers in particular, do have massive amounts of cash to invest in advertising and power to influence policy, just to be sure. Just as an example, the two top offenders in this debate have even changed some of the ingredients in their products, to avoid being forced to sport cancer warnings on their labels. And combined, theirs lawyers are among the biggest group of lobbyists operating in Congress, today.
They also have the muscle to keep their prices low, so to assure consumption by those who really don’t have the funds to afford ‘healthy,’ or ‘natural,’ or ‘organic’ drinks, however you may believe in the sincerity of these labels. Which means, the majority of the world’s population. And they do go after such demographics with everything they’ve got.
It’s no longer easy to discuss obesity and diabetes type 2, and their impact on public health and insurance costs, while avoiding focusing on the causes for increasing poverty in rich countries such as the U.S. And that’s the line of discussion that should be pursued, when it comes to soda and fast food consumption, rather than to blame the victims.
THE POWER OF INFORMED DECISIONS
Other proposals that have faced equally fierce opposition, but by a different set of special interests, are those that involve taxes on consumption. Again, it could work, albeit in a limited way, for it could make it more expensive to purchase something that ultimately may be harmful to some, and cost everybody else more, in the long run.
But at the end of the day, when someone chooses to skip that refreshing, and rush-provoking, sip of a favorite sweet drink, that choice is utterly personal, but is informed by what it’s known about that delicious liquid. And that, as we know, is often the difference between doing something because it gives you pleasure, or doing something because it’s the right thing to do.
A big part of the problem of child consumption of sugary drinks and fatty foods is the lack of parenting, either because they themselves are not completely aware of the health costs of their own habits, or because they’re too damned busy trying to make ends meet to micro-manage their kids’ habits.
So the mayor can legislate over anything, even everybody’s supposedly right to be a billionaire as he is, but that’s not happening anytime soon to everybody. The mayor would be quick to point the fact that he’s worked hard to get at where he is now, but if pressured, he’d also have to admit that he’s the product of a nurturing home environment.
Just out of deep distrust of those who’re now defending ‘our right to choose,’ we’re taking the side of the ban, for now. Anyone will still be able to buy the size of soda can they want, whenever they want, at any of the thousands of round the clock delis in this city. And can still stuff themselves with junk food. And can smoke too. Just not everywhere. And the thing is, too much soda does make you fat.
* Seconds to None