By Jason Knapfel, who manages content for Northwest Weight Loss Surgery, a bariatric clinic located just outside Seattle, Washington.
Fears and outrage over perceived excessive government intervention are being stoked after news from New York broke that the Big Apple has become the first city in the United States to impose a ban on “super-sized” sodas. The limited-time ban was proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and approved by The Board of Health. It restricts soda servings to a maximum of 16 ounces in public places such as restaurants and stadiums.
While the city’s health commissioner, Thomas Farley, called the vote “historic,” those in the soda industry and advocates for individual freedoms would probably have a less favorable description.
High levels of public outrage over the temporary ban are not only predictable, but understandable. Demanding restaurants and food makers to be transparent about the ingredients and calorie levels in their products has sound logic. It’s not just a potential way to fight obesity, but a defense of the consumer’s right to know what they are purchasing and putting in their bodies.
However, an outright ban on a food product, temporary or not, is bound to enrage Americans who by and large don’t want to be told what they can and can’t do. The initiative is not only overreaching, but condescending to think that public officials should take a basic choice out of our own hands.
You ultimately have to ask the question: what do Mayor Bloomberg, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, and others in favor of the ban expect to accomplish? Even if you think intervention is warranted, this is only a temporary ban in a few public locations. People will still be able to buy as much as they’d like at their local supermarket or even just refill their 16-ounce cup. If it’s just about publicizing a health message, aren’t you better off engaging your target audience’s curiosity rather than their ire?
Our national obesity crisis is a very difficult tight rope to walk. Emotions run high when you talk about personal decisions and people’s weight. In the meantime, the growing levels of obesity inflict major damage on everything from health care costs to productivity in the workforce. We’re heading for an iceberg, all the while stuck in a debate over how we turn the ship around before it’s too late. Do we do nothing under the noble guise of personal freedoms? If so, what alternatives are there to stemming the dangerous path we are heading down?