Should government regulate sugary drinks?
March 22, 2013
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer
In March, a New York state judge struck down a New York City ban on the sale of big, sugary drinks. The law, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, was necessary to help curb the growing waistlines of New Yorkers and improve their health.
The ban targeted sugar-sweetened drinks such as soda, fruit drinks, smoothies and coffee that come in containers larger than 16 ounces at restaurants and movie theaters. Supermarkets and convenience stores were exempt.
Calling the city regulations “arbitrary and capricious,” State Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling struck them down. Many restaurateurs, soda-industry lobbyists and New Yorkers praised the judge’s action.
The judge’s ruling raises questions about what governments should do, if anything, to help improve the health of its citizens.
Obesity is quickly becoming a major health problem in the nation, with over 35 percent of Americans considered obese. For children and teenagers, the rate is lower, 16.9 percent, but that is also rising.
Obesity raises the risk of many diseases like diabetes and cancer. Higher rates of these diseases will lead to higher health care costs. These costs, Bloomberg argued, could bankrupt New York City. He said action was necessary to try to stop rising obesity rates. It is not the first time Bloomberg has pushed for tougher anti-obesity regulations. In 2008, the New York City Health Department banned trans fat in city restaurants.
Is a ban on sugary drinks the answer?
The Mississippi legislature doesn’t think so, to the point of drafting a law that would forbid local governments from enacting rules that would require calorie counts to be posted, cut down portion sizes, or prevent restaurants from including toys in children’s meals. Deemed the “Anti-Bloomberg Bill,” the law was proposed to prevent Mississippi from becoming a checkerboard of local food regulations.
State Rep. Gregory Holloway was instrumental in getting the bill passed in the Mississippi House. “We don’t want local municipalities experimenting with labeling of foods and any organic agenda. We want that authority to rest with the legislature,” Holloway said in an NPR interview.
Not everyone in Mississippi is happy with the “Anti-Bloomberg Bill,” arguing that the law prevents Mississippians from governing themselves. Hernando, Miss., Mayor Chip Johnson contends the law curbs local governments’ authority and places it in the hands of the state. Johnson said, “You know what? If little Alligator, Miss., wanted to do that, that’s up to the people that live there. It is not up to the state to tell the people at the local level what to do.”
“They’re just using this to mask what the bill is really about, which is about taking away home rule.”
Should governments pass laws aimed at making people healthier?
All levels of government are dealing with this question. The federal government requires healthier school lunches (Read the Speak Out: Should the federal government require healthy school lunches?). Cities, towns and states have enacted bans on trans fat, removing them from the foods we eat (take a look at a bag of chips; most now say “No Trans Fats”). School boards have to decide whether to allow soda machines in cafeterias.
Some say taxes should be levied on unhealthy foods to pay for the costs of health care associated with obesity.
Massachusetts, a state that doesn’t tax food, is looking at removing the tax exemption on sodas to cover rising health care costs. Philadelphia tried and failed to levy a 2-cent tax on every ounce of sugary drinks.
Even these actions have their detractors. Some argue that governments’ role in regulating what individuals eat and drink is turning the U.S. into a “nanny state,” where individuals are pressured into making healthy choices at the cost of personal choice.
“If you want to drink large drinks and become obese, that’s your right,” said Christopher Rivera, 19, told the New York Times.
The American Beverage Association’s Chris Gindlesperger argues against the taxes. “Taxes don’t make people healthy.”
“What helps people get to a place where they’re leading more healthy lifestyles is educating them on how to balance the calories they consume with the calories they expend through physical activity,” Gindlesperger said in an NPR interview.
What do you think?
Should governments ban, tax or regulate unhealthy foods to cut down on obesity? At what level? Local? State? Federal? Do you think laws like New York City’s soda ban would help people make healthier choices? Are there other ways the government could help curb obesity? Is choosing what and how much to eat and drink a personal choice? Or is the government’s stake in the costs of health care important, too? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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