Jun 22, 2012
By George Sava
Recently Mayor Bloomberg announced his proposal to restrict the sale of sugared drinks in New York City. Similarly, Cambridge, Massachusetts is considering a ban of sugary drinks in restaurants. The impetus for these restrictions is the concern that a high intake of soda and other sugary drinks increase the risk of obesity and diabetes.
Opponents of these restrictions claim that these “fat laws” are nothing more than a restriction on our personal freedoms. According to a recent Forbes article, “Nanny state restrictions encourage citizens to abdicate their decision-making to the government. As blogger Bill Whittle stated, ‘the more your government restricts your options, the more you psychologically look to government to keep you safe, fed, clothed, housed and sustained.’”
Mayor Bloomberg’s counter is that widespread obesity drives up health costs for everyone. According to some reports, around $117 billion is spent on obesity related health care.
Clearly obesity is a great problem in our country. Today, over two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. One-third of the population is considered obese. Nearly a third of youths are overweight. Sadly, there are some estimates that 42 percent of the country will be obese in 20 years.
As such, more states are looking to take action. According to The Washington Post, more than 25 states are currently debating over 140 bills aimed at obesity. Various state legislators cite the success of various anti-smoking laws passed in the 1990s and the importance of additional health related laws today. As background, from 1998 to 2005, the consumption of tobacco fell 20 percent. From 2005 to 2010, consumption fell 7.6 percent. According to a Washington Post article, “The drop was a result, they said, of factors that include the sharply higher cost of cigarettes, restrictions on cigarette advertising and a shift in public perceptions as the dangers of smoking are more aggressively and widely publicized.”
Notwithstanding, like many issues before us today, there is a great divide as to the Mayor’s new proposed restrictions. Do we allow the government to restrict our freedom of choice for our alleged own good? Are we incapable of making health related decisions for ourselves and our families? Are those who choose to live unhealthy lives truly a drain on health related resources?
For the sake of full disclosure, I am a statistic. For years I lived a very healthy lifestyle which included exercise and healthy eating. In the last several years, however, with work and family concerns my eating and exercise habits have been less than optimal and I have allowed myself to gain weight. Although I have pledged to right the ship, being in my forties I realize it will not be easy.
What is interesting about my personal situation is that I don’t drink sugary drinks. My current state is the result of a long term fast food diet and a lack of exercise. I point this out because although various politicians vilify sugary sodas as public enemy number one in the fight against obesity, the fact remains that the sales of various sodas continue to decline. According to an MSNBC report, “U.S. soft-drink sales have fallen for six straight years as consumers switched to healthier alternatives such as juices and tea and cut back on spending in the recession.” Therefore, sodas might only be step one. If so, the question becomes what’s next?
Although I am somewhat amenable to Mayor Bloomberg’s proposals I am very concerned about a possible slippery slope. How far is the government prepared to go, how much are various elected officials prepared to restrict and what penalties are they prepared to enact for “our own good?” Arizona has already proposed a $50 tax on overweight individuals. Is this the future? If it is, I’m not sure I am ready to include a height and weight statement on my annual tax return.
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