Monday, March 11, 2013

The perils of public health

We all know that sodas - or "sugar-sweetened-beverages" or SSBs - are not good for our health. There is ample research to show that rising SSB consumption raises risk for obesity and obesity-related illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease. I know I cringe when I walk by vending machines vending soda for $2 a bottle in hospitals, schools, prisons and other institutions. I know you wouldn't want your child drinking a cola every day.

And yet, many of us still consume it... in cans-ful, pints-ful, even liters-ful.

So what does a good public health practitioner do? We've tried to "educate" the consumer about how one can of soda is the equivalent of eating 10 teaspoonfuls of sugar. We label things and run public service announcements. We advocate for healthier options in school vending machines. But when these downstream approaches aren't successful, we really have no choice but to point upstream. And that means changing laws, policies and production.

New York City's recent attempt to ban SSBs in sizes over 16 oz in establishments that serve prepared foods was a noble attempt to save the consumer from his/herself. But consumer groups and lobbyists have risen up against this effort, following in previous footsteps, calling out the paternalistic nature of such public health tactics.

Really, does having the "choice" to order a 32-ouncer of coke (i.e., nearly 30 teaspoonfuls of sugar) constitute freedom? Don't we as consumers realize that those super sizes are the profit margin that these big corporations have used to fatten their wallets while they fatten our waistlines anyway? Should we sit back and let our fellow citizens who think they want a half gallon of sugar water poison their arteries, shorten their lifespans and transfer life's unhappiness to the satisfaction of a few slurps from some uber-sweet, addictive beverage?

But on the eve of the super-size-soda ban going into effect, a judge has tarnished the effort, calling it "arbitrary and capricious." Public health's paternalism can only go so far. Don't get in the way of the people and their pepsi.


  1. Don't think that I want the government to "save me from myself". Tell me what to eat, or drink or if I should have a child or not. Seems like an infringement. Better to educate than to dictate.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.