New York City's Planned Soda Ban: Paternalism Or Enlightened Leadership?

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Bloomberg
Mayor Michael Bloomberg will propose a Styrofoam ban. It may not please everyone, but some of his previous bans were a success.

Imagine a New York City where you cannot supersize your soda at movie theaters, restaurants or sporting venues.

If Mayor Michael Bloomberg gets his way, a large sugary beverage at the Yankees game may soon be a thing of the past.

In an effort to reduce the growing rate of obesity, Bloomberg has plans to implement a ban on large sodas and other sugary drinks in virtually every place but the home. His administration wants to ban the sale of these beverages in containers that are more than 16-fluid ounces.

If the city's proposal is approved, the ban may take effect around March 2013 after the Board of Health gives the go signal. The City's inspection team will be tasked with enforcing the new rule, Bloomberg's website states.

Diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based beverages and alcohol are exempt from the ban. Getting your hands on any of these drinks in a container over 16 fluid ounces will still be possible at the supermarket or bodegas. Food establishments that fail to downsize will have to pay a $200 fine.

Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, 'Oh, this is terrible,'  Bloomberg said, as reported by the New York Times.

New York City is not about wringing your hands; it's about doing something, he said. I think that's what the public wants the mayor to do.

But is Bloomberg's move for a  large-soda ban in New York City paternalism or is it enlightened leadership?

Make no mistake about it, Bloomberg is a public health crusader who is aggressive when it comes to public health initiatives that save lives.

Under Bloomberg's leadership, there has already been a ban on smoking in public places. The U.S. Surgeon General has warned that second-hand smoking kills. Additionally, trans fats were banned from NYC restaurants, and chain restaurants now publicly post the number of calories in their meals -- an attempt to help people make better choices.

Obesity is the second-leading preventable cause of death in the nation. It is on its way to dethroning tobacco, according to the New York State Department of Health.

According to statistics released on Bloomberg's website, 58 percent of adults in New York City are either overweight or obese. The city's children are not too far behind either, as almost 40 percent of public school students in grades K-8 are either overweight or obese.

Thousands of New Yorkers die each year as a result of obesity, and the city spends $4 billion in health-care costs annually because of this, according to MikeBloomberg.com. One in eight New Yorkers has diabetes, which has been linked to obesity.

At the state level, the percentage of adults who are overweight or obese is up from 42 percent in 1997 to 60 percent in 2008, according to the state health department. Obesity has tripled among children and adolescents over the past 30 years, and a third of the state's children are obese or overweight. Treating obesity-related illnesses in the state of New York costs more than $7.6 billion annually.

It is therefore no wonder that Nanny Bloomberg, as some opponents of his health policies call him, has decided to get tough on obesity.

At least one beverage company has weighed in on the issue.

Coca-Cola said it has been transparent with its consumers who are able see the calorie counts on the front of its bottles and cans.

New Yorkers expect and deserve better than this, Coca-Cola's statement read. They can make their own choices about the beverages they purchase. We hope New Yorkers loudly voice their disapproval about this arbitrary mandate.

Furthermore, ordering fast-food chains with self-serve fountains or restaurants to hand out smaller cup sizes doesn't sit well with some.

A New York City Beverage Association spokesman criticized the proposal for singling out soda as the culprit.

The New York City health department's unhealthy obsession with attacking soft drinks is again pushing them over the top, Stefan Friedman told the Times. It's time for serious health professionals to move on and seek solutions that are going to actually curb obesity. These zealous proposals just distract from the hard work that needs to be done on this front.

Regardless of whatever side of the debate you are on, the fact remains that obesity is preventable, many are dying from it, something must be done and Bloomberg is trying to do something about it. 

As the state health department puts it, While many epidemics can be defeated with a pill or a vaccine, obesity requires changes in behavior as well as access to affordable, nutritious foods and opportunities for physical activity in the places where people live, learn, eat, shop, work and play.

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