Soda: A Matter of Choice?
By Ken Walker-
Absent court intervention, New York’s ban on super-sized sweetened beverages will take effect next week. Of course, regardless of whether that state’s supreme court intervenes, the “nanny state” debate will rage on far into the future.
I have mixed emotions about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s step. Having lost weight after double-bypass surgery, I know that no one can force the issue. Absent sufficient motivation—mine was the prospect of imminent death—no one is likely to alter their habits.
Yet, when the government shells out billions for health care costs brought on by excessive food and soft drink consumption, how can obese patients relying on government-paid health care scream about government prodding them to cut back?
Besides, there is another issue often overlooked by those who argue they should be free to do whatever they want. Namely, that the government already dictates food choices. It’s just that the trail is so long and winding, and features such clever persuasion and manipulation, that most people don’t notice.
It starts with the subsidies lavished on corn producers which, according to noted author Dr. Don Colbert, have totaled more than $50 billion in recent decades. These subsidies produce the “river of corn” that Michael Pollan writes about in Omnivore’s Dilemma.
So, Uncle Sam’s funds created the incentive to produce the corn used to fatten the livestock that supplies the fast-food industry that mushroomed since the 1970s (and whose advertising influences millions of daily “choices.”)
This overflow also generates the mountain of high fructose corn syrup, the leading sweetener utilized by the food industry. Recent studies have identified a connection between heavy consumption of high fructose corn syrup and the development of hypertension (high blood pressure).
In her new book (which I edited), Spiritual Secrets to a Healthy Heart, Dr. Kara Davis writes, “Introduced in the 1960’s, its use spread so widely that it constitutes about 20 percent of total daily carbohydrate intake in the average U.S. diet. Our body weight has climbed alongside this increased consumption. Like other refined grains, (it) is associated with obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.”
Given this situation, it seems reasonable that the food producers who have benefited from government, as well as Uncle Sam, ought to bear some responsibility for helping clean up our health mess.
Steve Willis addresses this aptly in our book, Winning the Food Fight. I credit him for this five-point proposal for legislation that could impact our nation’s health. As he puts it, “I don’t think government needs to get involved in everything, but since they helped get us into this problem, they have an obligation to help get us out of it.”
“1. Education. Every child in our school systems need to be taught about food and where it comes from. It is no accident that where educational levels are the highest, obesity levels are the lowest. Sadly, the reverse is true. Our least educated states are also the most obese.”
“2. Labeling. Give concerned parents a chance. Require the food industry to list all ingredients on packaging. If any ingredient in any food has been through the irradiation process, parents need to know.
“3. Restaurant listings. I don’t want to hurt small businesses, but large chains should provide nutritional information for each item on the menu. Exactly how much sugar, fat, and salt is in this recipe.
“4. Soda tax. Just like cigarettes, soda is causing a health care crisis in this country. It is not fair to those of us who have decided to take care of our bodies to make us pay higher taxes for increased health care programs. Tobacco companies were forced to pay into our system for all the damage they have done to our national health. It is high time we expected soda companies to do the same.
“5. Subsidize fresh fruits and vegetables. This seems like a no brainer to me. Reduce the subsidies given to grains and meats (currently 73 percent of total budget) and increase amounts for fruits and vegetables (currently only 9.8 percent). We have to get the cost of fresh produce down to more affordable prices for the common man. If you don’t like government involvement, fine. Cut all subsidies and let the free market work it out. That would be better than our current system.”
So, after the critics have finished screaming at Mayor Bloomberg, they might be wise to take a closer look at the compelling reasons to shift away from the status quo. Wonder if convenience stores would consider marketing a Small Gulp?