New York City’s mayor Bloomberg announced today that he would seek to ban all sales of “sugary sodas” in containers of more than 16 ounces as part of an effort to curb the national obesity epidemic. The ban would affect all sales at points of consumption, such as restaurants and snack bars, food stands, newsstands, theaters, sports arenas and so forth. The only stores permitted to sell these sodas in larger containers would effectively be grocery stores, bodegas and the like.
Critics on both sides of the fence have several complaints: they see the ban as an unwarranted intrusion on individual rights and choices, as more symbolic than effective, and as another example of Bloomberg’s increasing bent toward nannyism.
Nonsense. We have to start somewhere, and Bloomberg is to be commended for his courage, not criticized for his presumption. It is entirely fitting that the government, which is, after all, the people, finally take some responsibility for curbing the future costs to the people that this epidemic will entail. Skyrocketing diabetes rates, heart disease and a host of other ailments all stem from obesity, and sugary sodas are estimated by experts to be a major contributor to excess caloric consumption. Treating the damage inflicted by obesity will run taxpayers tens, if not hundreds billions of dollars a year — dollars that can be saved if we attack the problem aggressively.
In addition, surely the government has a long-accepted mandate to act in defense of those who cannot help themselves. Obesity afflicts our social classes disproportionately: chiefly, it is the poor and the young who suffer. Both of these populations tend to be poor decision-makers and undereducated in healthy choices. It is therefore incumbent on the state to rise to their defense.
The best evidence to support a program like Bloomberg’s lies in the results it gets. I am confident that, if the availability of these poison pops is reduced substantially we will see corresponding declines in obesity rates in the city that will be measurable. This should go a long way to persuade pseudo-libertarians and the usual claque of anti-big government psychos that Bloomberg’s action is not only not “too much,” but in fact, far too little. A government that is charged with maintaining public safety cannot in good conscience ignore the smoking guns we point at our own bodies, like sugar, trans-fats, smoking, lack of exercise, stress, excess caffeine, immoderate drinking and — well, the list goes on.
We need to tackle these problems one at a time or in bunches, if we can, to assure our citizens that they will preserve their most important right — and that is the right to a long, healthy life.