Today, New York City's health commission is slated to decide whether to limit the size of "sugary drinks"sold in the city to 16 ounces or less. While obesity and its impacts on health are problematic, the city's effort to regulate health through the soda industry while continuing to allow the sale of other potentially deadly goods is off the mark. Funds and efforts should be aimed at public education, not soda regulation.
Ostensibly, the measure is meant to curb that city's obesity rate - more than half of the city's adult population is overweight or obese as are more than 20 percent of the city's preschool and kindergarten children. But while the proposed ban addresses carbonated beverages sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, both health hazards in large quantity, the move would not affect the sale of fruit juices, any drink that includes dairy (e.g. milkshakes, lattes), or alcoholic beverages regardless of size or nutritional value. So while gallon-sized sodas may not be wandering the streets, "health" drinks and caffeine boosts are unaffected regardless of their fat, sodium or caloric values.
Consider: a 16-ounce Coke Classic, the largest allowed under the plan, serves up 250 calories including no fat, 105 grams sodium and 68 grams of carbohydrates, all of which are sugar carbs. Meanwhile, Starbuck's grande Java Chip Frappuccino (essentially a 16-ounce, coffee-and-chocolate milkshake) sports 460 calories with 18 grams of fat (12 of which are saturated fats), 260 mg of sodium and72 grams of carbs, 66 grams of which are straight-up sugar. The venti, a 24-ounce version of that same drink, would not be limited by the ban. A small, buttered popcorn sold at the city's 11-story-tall, 25 screen AMC Empire movie theater is a bucket of 900 calories including 60 grams of fat, 43 of which are saturated. And that oh-so-good-for-you, 16-ounce, vanilla frozen yogurt down the avenue at Pinkberry? 400 calories, 560 grams of sodium and 96 grams of carbohydrates, all of which are sugar carbs.
Low-sugar, or no-sugar drinks sweetened with non-food sweeteners, meanwhile, will continue to be allowed in large quantities despite their questionable health impacts. Aspartame causes headaches and other health problems, though government agencies continue to claim it's safe. Still:
Meanwhile, the New York City continues to allow the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products known to the entire world to cause cancer, the second-leading cause of death in the United States. More than 10,000 licensed tobacco dealers push the addictive drug, a known carcinogen. (The city did ban roll-your-own tobacco shops last year, but that was to preserve its income from tobacco tax, not to protect public health.) According to the National Institutes of Health, "all tobacco products are harmful and cause cancer" and "there is no safe level of tobacco use." Yet across the nation, the drug which kills 1 in 5 Americans each year is still sold not only by the pack, but by the carton and even case. A chain smoker can adversely affect not only her own health, but the health of everyone around her.
Alcohol is on sale in vast quantities in shops, restaurants and bars throughout the city. According to the NIH, alcohol consumption is related to a vast array of health issues including coronary heart disease and cancer. It affects sleep and stress levels, transportation safety, infant health during pregnancy, and nutrition.
Firearms are also on sale in New York City at 32 licensed gun shops. Sure, you're supposed to have a pistol permit or register larger firearms with the city. Still, in 2011 there were 314 firearms-related homicides in the city. The numbers are on the rise in 2012, including the death of a 4-year-old playing on a playground, a 9-year-old walking down a street, a 14-year-old returning home from a tennis game. While the numbers are not as staggering as those provided by cigarettes and soda pop, they tragically affect innocents.
Public education, beginning with leading by example in the nation's public schools, is a more feasible answer than banning any substance. Put time, effort and money toward providing healthy lunches with no processed foods at the nation's schools to teach nutrition while providing for the public health. Teach social skills at early ages so people have the tools to win their own arguments without the use of violence. Teach healthy living skills by increasing, not reducing, the amount of time allowed in school for exercise through physical education and active playground play.