On the Table

Mayor Bloomberg has the right idea

June 5, 2012 

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Denise Gray holds two extra large soft drinks from an area fast food chain on June 1, 2012 in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City. In an attempt to fight obesity, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to implement a ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts. The ban has proved controversial with many people saying it will not decrease obesity and will be a further erosion of personal choice.

SPENCER PLATT — Getty Images

Our struggle against obesity is going to take courage.

New York City and its mayor are showing us how.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a ban on the sale of soft drinks in restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas and similar venues in portions larger than 16 ounces. The ban, which still has to be approved by the New York City Board of Health, would also include other sweetened beverages and so-called “energy” drinks.

Bloomberg’s proposal has drawn criticism from the soft drink industry and other obesity industry apologists who say it’s indicative of a nanny state that wants to limit personal freedom.

The same crowd said the same thing when New York moved to ban cigarette smoking in restaurants and required trans fat and calorie labels on restaurant menu boards.

They say putting limits on the sale of sugar-packed drinks is extreme.

You know what’s extreme? Drink cups that take two hands to hold.

New York’s initiative is an example of the kind of leadership it’s going to take to turn around our nation’s weight crisis.

Obesity-linked diseases and conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and arthritis are robbing us of our health and happiness. The causes of obesity are complex but include a web of economic, political and social factors that make it hard for individuals to use willpower alone to control their weight.

Any serious solution has to include government involvement in regulating the food industry to make the food environment more conducive to good health.

We eat and drink too much too often. It’s making us sick and killing us, but there’s a food system in place that includes a lot of powerful industry stakeholders who stand to lose financially if changes are made that change the status quo.

New York’s big drink ban, if put in place, is likely to be adopted in other places around the country, following the Big Apple’s example.

Some of us can remember the days before cars had air bags and folks didn’t want to use their seat belts. It took government to change those norms.

There is a role for government to play in helping people maintain healthy weights. New York is doing the right thing.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor in the Departments of Health Policy and Management and Nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Send questions and comments to suzanne@onthetable.net. and follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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