City sleepless over proposed ban on large sugary drinksBy Winston A. Marbella
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Resident New Yorkers proudly attest that there is truly only one city that never sleeps—and that’s the Big Apple. Now they are sleepless over a proposal to ban the sale of large sodas which their mayor calls “sugary drinks.”
Meanwhile, the world’s population is growing more obese, including Filipino kids, health studies show.
The proudly insomniac New York City already bans smoking in public parks in the interest of public health.
More recently, it barred the use of artificial trans fats from food served in restaurants. Now Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to stop sales of large sodas and other sugary drinks to fight America’s battle of the bulge.
But in a country that passionately values individual freedom, Bloomberg’s plan does not taste sweet.
The most infamous example was Prohibition, which barred the manufacture and sale of alcohol from 1919 to 1933.
But Mayor Bloomberg’s plan has some scientific backing.
Fat Filipino kids
In Manila, the 7th National Nutrition Survey (NNS) by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST) showed that 4.3 percent (or about 4 in every 100) of children (newborns to 5-year-old) are overweight for their age.
A child is overweight-for-height if the weight is much greater than that of normal children of the same height.
Although the prevalence of overweight children belonging to this age group is still low, it has been steadily increasing since 1989, the study found.
The regions with the highest prevalence of overweight children aged 5 years and below include Ilocos (or Region 1) with 6.3 percent, the National Capital Region (NCR) with 6.2 percent and Calabarzon (or Region 4-A) with 5.9 percent.
Unused calories from excessive eating and sedentary lifestyle result in being overweight. Overweight is one of the leading causes of lifestyle-related diseases such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, strokes, muscle and bone disorders and certain cancers.
A study published in the American Journal of Nutrition in 2010 showed that 43 million children, 35 million of whom are in developing countries, were estimated to be overweight and obese, while 92 million more were at risk of being overweight.
Worldwide prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity increased from 4.2 percent in 1990 to 6.7 percent in 2010.
The Nutritional Guidelines for Filipinos (NGF) encourages adults and children to engage in physical activities like brisk walking, jogging and sports, and to turn away from unhealthy vices such as smoking and excessive alcoholic beverage consumption.
Understandably, the soft drink industry is fighting back. It ran a full-page ad in the New York Times with an image of the mayor as a nanny.
The ad said, “Bye Bye Venti: Nanny Bloomberg has taken his strange obsession with what you eat one step further. He now wants to make it illegal to serve ‘sugary drinks’ bigger than 16 oz. What’s next? Limits on the width of a pizza slice, size of a hamburger or amount of cream cheese on your bagel?”
The Center for Consumer Freedom, which ran the ad, calls Bloomberg as the “Great Dictator” on its website.
Bloomberg’s plan, part of an effort to fight obesity, would make it illegal for food service establishments such as restaurants, street vendors, sports venues and movie theaters to serve sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces.
The ban would apply to both bottled soda and fountain drinks containing more than 25 calories per eight ounces. It would not include alcohol, fruit juices, diet soda or any beverage that is at least half milk. Grocery stores and convenience stores would be exempt.
Bloomberg argues that New York City spends $4 billion a year on healthcare for overweight residents, and sugary drinks are the most significant factor in the increasing number of overweight New Yorkers.
“In New York City, smoking deaths are down to 7,000 a year from something in the 20s. Obesity deaths are at 5,000 and skyrocketing,” Bloomberg said in an interview with ABC’s “World News”anchor Diane Sawyer. “Obesity will kill more people than smoking in the next couple of years.”
The New York City Beverage Association says banning soda will not change much the city’s obesity rate.
Bloomberg argues that his proposal is not a government prohibition, but a public awareness campaign.
“It’s purely education. It forces you to see the difference, in the case of the two different sized cups,” Bloomberg said. “The public does act when they get the information. And all we’re doing here is saying, ‘If you want to order 32 ounces of soda, in a restaurant that we supervise, this restaurant must give you two 16-ounce glasses.’”
Both Coca-Cola and McDonald’s came out against the proposal. Coke called the plan an “arbitrary mandate” and encouraged New Yorkers to “loudly voice their disapproval.” McDonald’s labeled it “misguided” and said that solving the obesity epidemic “requires a more collaborative and comprehensive approach.”
Bloomberg has a history of enacting legislation to try to make New Yorkers healthier. Since becoming mayor, he has banned smoking in many public places, outlawed trans-fats in the city’s restaurants and required chain restaurants to post calorie counts.
(The author is president of a management think tank that specializes in formulating public policy and business strategy from social and economic trends; e-mail mibc2006@gmail. com.)
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