Well, I never saw this day coming. I found an issue on which I disagree with Jon Stewart.
I know! But before you throw anything at me, check out his take on NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s recent decision to ban the sale of sodas in sizes larger than 16 oz.
“It combines the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect!” Stewart joked.
Stewart (and, ok, all of the other critics here) is incorrect in terms of the probable results, and off point in terms of the underlying value of the ban.
First, let’s address the fundamental misconception that this is actually a real ban. By banning the sale of sodas in sizes larger than 16 oz., Bloomberg is actually in no way restricting your right to drink your nine cans of Mountain Dew a day — he’s just making sure you are buying them one at a time. By making it more difficult to obtain the same amount, the hope is that basic levels of human consciousness kick in, and people may start to limit the intake in which they otherwise blindly participate.
Second, evidence predicting the “probable lack of results” doesn’t actually exist, because bans like his have not been widely enacted. But the evidence available does suggest that bans and restrictions work — indeed, that they might be the only thing that does to restrict consumption.
In an article in The New England Journal of Medicine, Kelly D. Brownell, a professor at Yale, and Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote that “for each extra can or glass of sugared beverage consumed per day, the likelihood of a child’s becoming obese increases by 60 percent.” Sugary beverages are now the number one source of calories for most Americans, making up about 10% of the caloric intake of children and teenagers. These increased calories lead to record-high rates of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
So, the increased consumption of sugary beverages does likely lead to increased obesity and other health risks. And what’s more, a Yale study of soda in public schools and private institutions found that for every 10% increase in price, consumption of soda dropped by 7.8%, suggesting that deterrents to purchasing sugary beverages actually does help reduce consumption.
You won’t find me arguing that decreasing our consumption of soda is the only thing that’s going to reverse the American obesity crisis. But it sure as hell isn’t going to hurt.
So shall we move on to the accusation of Draconian government overreaching?
Mark Bittman’s column this week addresses the oft-repeated criticism of the nanny state and infringements on civil liberties by reminding us the myriad ways in which we, as a society, accept government restrictions on individual freedoms when they are deemed in the best interest of society as a whole. Smokers may not like smoking bans, and drinks may not like alcohol restrictions — but we deal. Because we all know that it’s bad for kids to breathe second-hand smoke and get hit by drunk drivers.
The ridiculous overburdening of the American food system with sugary and fatty foods is the same thing. Bittman calls it the tobacco of the 21st century, and he’s right (as we’ve discussed with regard to marketing towards children here). Americans consume more than 50 gallons of soda per person per year, and obesity costs the nation’s healthcare system upwards of $147 billion a year.
This is not a coincidence. So while a restriction like the one in New York might not single-handedly solve the issue, and while conservatives (or liberal comedians) might like to accuse this of government overreaching, in (I bet as little as) five years time, we will see this as a logical step, something we can’t imagine ever existing, like smoking on airplanes.