A reprieve for the super-sized soda

March 12, 2013

Once the “pause that refreshes,” Coca-Cola and its sugary brethren are now, to some at least, the irresistible poison that has expanded the American waistline and spawned all the ills that come with it, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke.

Standing at the head of the anti-soda parade, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg successfully pushed through a law that would have banned the sale of large soft drinks within the city. No more would you have been able to guzzle down a super-sized soda at a restaurant, theater or purchase one from a food cart. It would have gone into effect Tuesday, but a New York Supreme Court judge struck it down at the 11th hour, contending that the regulations were “arbitrary and capricious” and would have created an “administrative Leviathan...limited only by its own imagination.”

Though drinking soda from a cup as large as a farmyard bucket is not the wisest decision a consumer could make, the judge made the correct decision. Other cities had been eyeing the New York law and considering adopting similar measures. Though Bloomberg is planning to appeal, it stands to reason that the copycat proposals will, sensibly, be cast aside or forgotten.

Arguably crafted with worthy intentions, the law had too many loopholes and singled out soft drinks to the exclusion of other hazards in the American diet. Sugary drinks would have been limited to 16 ounces at restaurants and theaters, but not at convenience stores. Of course, the law had nothing to say about refills, which are allowed at many eateries, nor did it address those crafty individuals who would get around the ban by ordering two 16-ounce drinks rather than one 32-ounce drink. Sugar-soaked lattes from Starbucks and thick, creamy milkshakes that are packed with fat were also left untouched.

Bloomberg and his allies have argued that the law was designed to protect children, but this is an area that would be better left to parents to supervise. Moreover, they seem to suggest that consumers are helpless and stripped of all willpower when confronted with a soft drink – one sip of that elixir, with its mixture of sugar and caffeine, and they will be hooked, weak-kneed and craving a fix like a street corner crack addict. Consumers aren’t that defenseless, though; they’ve been drinking soft drinks for over a century and can make their own decisions.

Combating obesity should be a priority for public health officials, but focusing all the fire on extra-large sodas is misguided. The reason American waistlines have been expanding over the last couple of decades can be attributed to a complex array of causes – increased portion sizes, the easy availability of fast food, sedentary jobs, long commutes, neighborhoods that aren’t designed for walking and physical activity, the reduction in physical education classes in public schools, and the abundance of entertainment choices, such as cable television and video games, that involve sitting on one’s rump for long stretches. Even the great reduction in smoking in recent years – which everyone would agree has been a boon to public health – has played a role in making us a little bit fatter. We’d all probably be able to eat double cheeseburgers with reckless abandon if we followed it up by tilling the fields with a mule the way our ancestors once did. Now, we cool our heels in traffic and unwind by watching the entire season of “House of Cards” online.

Crime has declined admirably under Bloomberg and his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani. But it’s hard to believe things are so serene in Gotham that New York officials have nothing better to do than police the soft drink consumption of the city’s residents.



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